Thanks in large part to the “#MeToo” movement, conversations about female mistreatment in the workplace have been at the forefront of recent social discourse. Becoming ever-more relevant, then, is Penelope Skinner’s pre-”#metoo” 2015 dark comedy, Linda, about a woman fighting for visibility in the workplace in a male-dominated industry (serving, of course, primarily female clients). Steep Theatre’s production features an impressive cast with well-paced direction from ensemble member Robin Witt, but the script’s convoluted plot makes it difficult to connect fully with these characters.
Linda begins with the title character presenting a new idea for an ad campaign, one that celebrates the beauty of aging women and promotes positive self-body images. Before she can finish her pitch, though, she is interrupted; after years as the top executive in the industry, Linda’s older, male boss is replacing both her and her campaign, opting for a newer, younger consultant and strategy. This singular instance of diminishing relevance soon becomes much more than that, as Linda’s carefully balanced life starts unraveling.
However intriguing this premise and relevant these themes, the plot does not quite succeed in exploring these issues, primarily because of the sheer wealth of material it tries to tackle. Linda’s issues are usurped, at times, by her daughter Alice’s (Destini Huston) struggle with body image, her husband’s lover Stevie’s (Lucy Carapetyan) lacking self-esteem, and her youngest daughter Bridget’s (Caroline Phillips) conflict with female representation in theatre. Though these differing points of view are clearly meant to juxtapose Linda’s own situation and to highlight the challenges faced by all women, the play spends too much time diving deep into these side-plots. Any one of these narratives could be its own play, and the 150 minute running time, though lengthy, is not nearly enough to understand the nuances of each woman’s issues. Such examples might have been better served, in this instance, as hints more than separate story lines, retaining the focus on Linda so that her eventual emotional breakdown resonates more emotionally.
Steep prides itself on showcasing great actors, though, and in this area, at least, it does not disappoint. Led by Kendra Thulin (Linda), the well-rounded cast offers some stunning performances. Of particular note is Huston’s Alice, who delivers a heartbreaking monologue with the perfect balance of emotion and restraint. Rochelle Therrien’s Amy is perfectly polished while still allowing us glimpses of her character’s insecurities, and Thulin plays off this expertly as Amy’s counterpart in work and, it seems, life.
Overall, there are many reasons to see this show: tremendous acting, great directing, and intriguing themes. But while Linda does a tremendous job of exploring some of the most relevant issues women face in the workplace today, it ultimately suffers from trying to do too much.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Linda continues at Steep Theatre through August 18. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
our most recent top picks
Blue Man Group ★★★