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Although Penelope Skinner’s play “Linda,” set in London, is overstuffed, she hits on important issues about women in the workplace and at home, and a super-charged performance by Janie Dee In this Manhattan Theatre Club presentation as the woman around whom the play is built is an attraction in itself.
Dee plays Linda, who has worked her way into an important position in a company that sells beauty products. The play begins with her giving a pitch that lacerates the idea that women show their age early and pleading for a different approach is sales aimed at older women. Her smartly-conceived speech sums up neatly the liberation-driven need for women to climb out of the traditional view that tars them with early obsolescence in comparison with how men are regarded.
Linda’s boss, Dave (John C. Vennema), doesn’t take kindly to her attitude. Instead, he is partial to the approach of a much younger, ambitious woman in the firm who rivals Linda, who is already being regarded as getting over the hill.
Meanwhile, we get a portrait of Linda’s home life as wife and the mother of one daughter and the step-mother of another. But she is driven by her desire to get further ahead professionally and make a contribution toward the advancement of women, and having already won an award for her talent, she is all-consumed with work while she struggles with domestic chores as well. Her husband, a teacher, acts above-it-all and is consumed with his own life. The author stacks up complex complications for everyone, with the result that the play, even while touching on vital themes, seems overwritten.
The cast members all make vital contributions, but it is Dee who holds center stage and commands our attention and admiration. The playwright doesn’t give the character of Linda much warmth. Dee is always on fire in the role as Linda battles for survival professionally and personally. The one time when she lets herself go gets her into deep trouble. Someone with her constant edge would be tough to live with, but Linda appears to be written that way, and Dee is consistently dynamic in a performance that epitomizes the problems women face in having it all. She earns every bit of the curtain call applause she inspires.
Skinner has written a pertinent drama, and Lynne Meadow’s direction skillfully accents issues touched along the way. Walt Spangler has designed a smart-looking revolving set for home and office action. At City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed March 5, 2017.