Playwright: Penelope Skinner
At: Steep Theatre Company, 1115 W. Berwyn Ave. Tickets: $27-$38; SteepTheatre.com; 773-649-3186. Runs through: Aug. 18
There's a starring role for an AARP-eligible actress in Penelope Skinner's 2015 play, currently making its regional premiere at Steep Theatre, but only if a female artist of sufficient stature can be found whom audiences will welcome in a role hearkening to sexist stereotypes dating back nearly a century.
Our heroine is Swan Cosmetics senior executive Linda Wilde, whose "True Beauty" marketing campaign targeting the over-fifty demographic has earned millions for her employers and now spurs her to freely boast of her happiness at being, herself, 55 years old. So unwavering is her faith in this manifesto that, despite the savvy presumably accumulated by successful self-made careerists, she remains oblivious to warning signs of discontent encroaching on her privileged status. These include a pop-musician husband who hides behind his laptop screen, a reclusive adult daughter who swaddles herself in a skunk-costume jumpsuit and a teen stepdaughter rehearsing a gender-nonconforming monologue for her theater academy audition. Let's not forget, either, the workplace threat posed by an ambitious ( and significantly younger ) subordinate and a foozly old boss who professes to "know a few things about women."
Linda isn't the first mortal undone by illusions of invincibility, but the very accomplishments bestowed on her by author Skinner serve to undermine her claim to be an innocent victim of ageism. We cannot help but wonder why someone with this much to lose would consent to quickie sex with a capricious young desk-jockeyin the office storeroom, yetand then allow him to photograph it on his smartphone. Has this parent learned nothing about social media from her daughter's crippling depression after an on-line betrayal in high school, a mere ten years earlier?
So what does it mean when women of all ages are doomed to failure and dissatisfaction, when men are portrayed as fantasy objects enslaved by their hormones and even conniving bitches protest the price of eternal vigilance? Steep Theatre director Robin Witt and a cast led by Kendra Thulin strive valiantly to put a feminist spin on the familiar powerful-women-behaving-badly tropes, but if it's trueas Janis Joplin lamented in "Women Is Losers"that "men always seem to end up on top," Skinner makes an unintentional case for women ensuring their own place on the bottom.