Time was, she had her [stuff] together, a prize-winning advertising executive, who knew her products, knew her market of women transitioning in and through middle age, and more than that, respected them. In a business often driven by cynicism, she cared.
Things, however, are very different now for Linda (Janie Dee) in the eponymous play by UK dramatist Penelope Skinner, currently at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The youngies are encroaching upon her territory, in particular the privileged Amy (Molly Griggs) who is tearing down all the craft-sensitivity Linda built up, in league, naturally, with a tone-deaf, chauvinistic CEO (John C. Vennema). Ironically, as Linda gears up to battle women’s-issue rights at work, they’re showing up at home too. Her younger daughter Bridget is obsessing over which classic man’s role she can play for her college audition, to better demonstrate the versatility that comes with strength; older daughter Amy (Jennifer Ikeda) is unsocial and seems unambitious in the wake of an event we’ll learn of later, dressing only and ever in a neutering penguin-design onesie; and husband Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), safe and supportive, is also passive and unengaged…which will have its own impact on the self-image issue.
Though the play is an import, and its star, Janie Dee, British (making her first return to the US and MTC since 2000, making a splash as quite a different kind of female in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential), , Ms. Dee is new to the play and the sleekly effective production, helmed by MTC AD Lynne Meadow, is new. And you may find it has new things to say; or anyway puts them in new relief.
As bracing an experience in its highly contrasting way is White Guy on the Bus, by Philadelpia playwright Bruce Graham; and I identify him as such because he’s devoted to stories set, and about people, in the city. The 2016 play seems to have caught fire in theatres around the country—from a quick Google, the production now at 59E59 would seem to be its fourth major staging in 18 months—and with good reason; it has some compelling things to say about class, poor vs rich, race discrimination and race perception.
And there’s not much at all I can tell you about it (or that anyone else should; avoid spoilers at all costs), because in creating a narrative that skips around in time, Graham affects a kind of narrative slight-of-hand wherein only a startling revelation late in the first act “cracks the code” of chronology and changes your perception about what you were watching. Which is probably endemic to the themes being explored by the play. For this is not, if you’ll forgive a too-sweeping generalization, the “usual” drama about racism in which lines are cleanly drawn between factions, or at least between philosophies. In this play, good and bad are mutable abstractions, blurred gray lines are everywhere, and ethics cross ethnic lines.
What this has to do with assisted-living worker and nurse-in-training Shatique (Danielle Leneé, the only veteran of a prior production), and the bus ride she takes every Saturday to visit her brother in prison is not to be revealed here. But Ray is on that bus every Saturday, unthreatening and interested, getting to know her…