Intermission. The wife messages me to say she’ll be home from work early. Can I leave at intermission, she asks. She has to get up early the next morning. I probably won’t see her much at all tomorrow. Conundrum.
I am standing across the street from Steep Theatre, an unassuming storefront theatre, beside the Red Line El, at 1115 West Berwyn in Chicago. It’s a beautiful night. I could be home in less than 10 minutes. I am parked close to the theatre. There is always parking near the theatre. Come home, she half pleads, remarking I could watch the rest of the play from some other performance online somewhere. Linda, by British playwright Penelope Skinner played at the Royal Court Theatre in London, as well as New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
“But it’s so good,” say, looking back at the theatre, where patrons are chatting, stealing a quick cigarette. “I wish you could have come.”
“Come home,” the wife urges.
I know Linda Wilde, whose portrayal by Steep Ensemble member Kendra Thulin is riveting, sometimes haunting. She is every modern woman who wants to believe that she can have it all, while navigating an unrelenting storm of isms; from Sexism to ageism. In this world, ever misstep holds potentially disastrous consequences. At one point Linda laments that women are every bit as good as men in the same positions, except “we do it walking backwards in high heels.”
There are good laughs here. Linda is also not a feminist dissertation. Great theatre evokes. The intimacy of sharing a space, breathing the same air creates a relationship. We are invited into the painful deconstruction of a woman’s life and dreams. Linda was once safely cocooned within the illusion of having the perfect family, being a perfect mother and a well-respected Marketing exec for a firm selling beauty products. There is an unforgiving world beyond the all too thin veneer of that cocoon. Now older, she is marginalized by younger office nemesis, Amy, rendered superbly by Rochelle Therrien, in denial about finding her own fate caught in a system replete with misogyny and double standard. Linda’s marriage is unexpectedly in crisis, her children in peril. It all crashes together in an astounding scandal. Misteps, over unfamiliar ground in which there is allowed-allowed- no margin for a woman to err.
I’m really torn, I tell the wife. People are filtering back into the theatre. The story is more than plausible, but only too relatable. Just in the first act there are impeccable and unforgettable performances. Omer Abbas Salam is stunning and likeable as the flighty office kid. Caroline Phillips is Linda’s daughter, and secondary school acting hopeful. Bridget serves as something of a sarcastic narrator to what we are all thinking.
“The problem with being a man,” Bridget remarks over a frustrating Shakespeare audition, “they just have so many options.”
I’m still torn. The wife is facing a 12 hour shift the following day. The lights dim briefly in the theatre, signaling an end to intermission. The first act concluded with a breathtaking meltdown by Linda before the whole company. I wanted to cheer, while knowing full well there are going to be ramifications few men would have to face. I want to know if she prevails, or if she succumbs to the blind weight of unforgiving and assumptive patriarchy. What about her family, suddenly tearing itself at the seams? Linda accuses to husband Neil, played by Peter Moore, “I use to be the protagonist of my life!”
I want to know what happens to Thulin’s Linda.
I am torn…
Linda plays through August 18th at the Steep Theatre, 1115 West Berwyn, just off the Red Line in Chicago. For tickets and info visit http://steeptheatre.com/linda