Pictured: Kendra Thulin | Claire Demos
By Elizabeth Ellis
Linda Wilde lives a life many people would envy. In her mid-50’s, she works as an award-winning senior executive for a beauty corporation and, her professional mission is to celebrate with authenticity the beauty in women of all ages (plus she can still fit into clothing she wore more than a decade earlier). She has a loving, handsome husband and two daughters, and a modern and beautiful home, probably near London. But soon, the veneer in her carefully curated appearance begins to show some cracks. Linda’s boss wants to change the entire focus of her marketing plans, she begins to wonder about her husband’s commitment to their marriage, and her daughters each are going through personal young adult crises. It’s this sinking ship of life that forms the basis of LINDA, Penelope Skinner’s thoughtful examination of how women in mid-life often stop being heard and become less significant. In a sleek and vibrant production from Steep Theatre, with wonderfully insightful direction from Robin Witt, LINDA serves both as a cautionary tale and an exploration of how people and culture collaborate to diminish women who, in many ways, are actually entering one of the most powerful points in their lives.
“Start young and stay young.” That’s the message that Linda (the terrific Kendra Thulin) embodies as the European ambassador for Swan Beauty Corp.: polished, beautiful and sophisticated. Swan has flourished for years under Linda’s leadership and vision, but her thoughtless and misogynistic boss Dave (the jerky Jim Poole) decides to bring in Amy (the excellent Rochelle Therrien as a perfectly dressed, shiny-haired “mean girl”), Linda’s younger doppelganger, to market age-defying products to women like Amy, not to women who actually would buy and benefit from them. Amy, who clearly is gunning for Linda’s position, makes patronizing comments to Linda under the guise of friendship and mentorship. A bright spot in Linda’s work life is her slick and dapper assistant Luke (the outstanding Omer Abbas Salem) with whom she enjoys some workplace flirtation. Linda focuses on herself so much, and sees so much of her identity through her work, that she turns a blind eye to the upset in her home. Her older daughter Alice (Destini Huston, in a heartbreaking performance), still depressed and dealing with trauma from a vicious high school incident 10 years ago, dresses in a skunk onesie so she can move about unseen, while Linda’s teenage daughter Bridget (the wonderful Caroline Phillips) is practically begging for help in selecting a dramatic monologue for an important school performance. Linda is so self-involved that she even takes credit for the good grades Bridget receives in class. Neil, Linda’s husband (Peter Moore, in a beautiful and understated performance) still harbors fantasies of being a rock star, and steps outside their marriage with another wannabe rock star, Stevie (the affecting Lucy Carapetyan). As Linda’s worlds simultaneously begin to unravel, Linda begins to crumble herself. Her assertion that “if you look perfect, everyone thinks your life is perfect” boomerangs back to her in the worst possible ways.
Robin Witt handles these complicated issues with a light and deft touch. All of the actors bring warmth and depth to their roles, though Linda’s moments where she’s falling apart could go even further. Joe Schermoly’s gorgeous, almost completely white set personifies the Swan Beauty aesthetic: clean, sleek, bright, and the series of upstage sliding panels easily create different locations. The touches of turquoise in Amy’s Filofax, a vase, and design elements provide a lovely contrast. Izumi Inaba’s costumes, particularly for Linda, are spot-on authentic.
LINDA provides contrasting points of view about how women move through their lives under a microscope. The image-obsessed Amy seeks out male gazes and their approval, while her contemporary Alice does everything she can to hide from more pain from the involvement of men. As Alice states wearily, “If you piss off men and you’re a girl, you’re going to get hurt.” Also, anyone who may not be familiar with the particular frustration women over a certain age feel from being ignored and pushed aside will absolutely get an education from LINDA. Whether it’s a boss sanctimoniously raising a finger to silence his employee, or imploring her to “go quietly” (both of which elicited many groans from the women in the audience), or noticing that a formerly average-looking spouse has graduated to being the “more fuckable” one, the woman who has been a maiden and then a mother and now moving towards crone holds a deep-set fear of being silenced, dispatched, ridiculed. What’s great about LINDA is that the protagonist is no paragon of virtuous motherhood, nor a mindless obedient drone of an employee. Linda is fraught with faults, hypocrisy, and self-recrimination, but she still has a lot to say and contribute, and she deserves to be heard.