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The Lady With All The Answers

CATEGORY :
by David Rambo

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 3259

SHOWING : February 26, 2009 - March 15, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

"Dear Ann ..." For years, Ann Landers was the go-to goddess for solving all of America's problems. No topic was off limits: nude housekeeping, sex in a motorcycle helmet, the proper way to hang toilet paper, addiction, religion, and wandering spouses. She answered them all with honest, and often humorous, insight. The year is 1975, and we find Landers in her Chicago apartment. An ironic twist of events confronts her with a looming deadline for a column dealing with a new kind of heartbreak: her own. As she shares her struggles to complete the column, we get a glimpse of a funny, no-nonsense woman whose daily dialogue helped America to shape the social landscapes of the last half century.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director David Thomas
Anne Landers/Eppie Lederer Judy Leavell
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REVIEWS

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Who Advises the Advisor?
by Dedalus
Thursday, March 12, 2009
3.0
On a hot Chicago night, Advice Columnist Ann Landers (aka Eppie Lederer) is struggling to write “her most difficult column ever.” Her husband is divorcing her, and she just can’t find the words to share her dilemma with her readers. When you’re the one to whom millions turn for advice, where do you go for your own answers? Certainly not twin sister Popo (aka “Dear Abby”). So, she turns to us.

That’s the conceit behind “The Lady with All the Answers,” a one-woman show by David Rambo, currently being produced by Georgia Ensemble.

While I like and respect the work of Judy Leavell as Eppie, and like the look and design of the show itself, I’m not sure there’s enough here to warrant a play. Although the concept of the play allows her to share some of her favorite correspondences, they’re presented in a random “Greatest Hits” fashion. If she’s having trouble coming to terms with her divorce and how she’ll explain it to her readers, wouldn’t she be mentally scanning her divorce/relationship advice, rather than smiling over the great toilet paper debate?

I used to occasionally enjoy reading Ms. Landers’ columns, and I’ve always been impressed with her progressive viewpoints – she was one of the first to recognize gay rights, for example, long before it was trendy (or even wise) to do so. And this aspect of her character is not ignored – in fact one pleasure on tap here is her reminiscences about her encounters with rich and not-quite-as-influential-as-herself. Still and all, I found her conflict as well as her politics more of an afterthought than a dramatic “driver.”

So, this play will succeed or fail for you on how much you enjoy those letters -- the letters from those who face real tragedy, those who face silly conundrums, those who just need a sympathetic ear. I enjoyed many of them, most of them, in fact. Some of them were even familiar in a vague “didn’t I read that when I was in college?” way. Maybe one of the problems for me is that the play seemed to give equal dramatic weight to the gay teenager contemplating suicide as it did to the housewife who likes to vacuum in the nude.

Even more problematic, the characterization we get of Eppie is surprisingly shallow. As good as Ms. Leavell’s work is here, the material gives her little more to work with than what was evident on those Saturday Night Live skits a few years ago. She’s on stage alone for almost two hours, and we’re left with little knowledge of who she really was. For example, we never find out what made her become a columnist, what in her background qualified her to give advice, what were the roots of her progressive politics, even what was causing the rift with her sister. The look we get into her marriage goes no further than a “love at first sight” reminiscence about their first meeting, and the fact of their impending divorce. To be honest, a better portrait might have been had if we could see her in any interaction with her husband or daughter or sister or editor. The bottom line for me was that she really had little to tell us beyond a recap of her favorite letters, and, honestly, I expected more.

I started writing this column as a “B” (4-star) review, simply because of Ms. Leavell’s work and the production values as a whole. But, as I’ve belabored my articulation here, the flaws in the concept, in the work itself, seem to have come to the fore. It’s not always fair to criticize a script for not being what I want to be, but here, I think it’s fully warranted.

Ann Landers left a huge body of letters, of writings, of work. She was passionate about her politics, and held unpopular opinions that most writers would be afraid to articulate. She helped countless people and gave reading pleasure to millions more. She is a figure deserving of theatrical treatment.

Yet playwright David Rambo has chosen instead to fashion a fan letter, a rambling and unfocused monologue with a “framing conception” painted on as an afterthought. He wisely chose a crisis moment in her life, but drained her of any motivation to find some of the desperately needed advice she was so good at giving others. And she never resolves her writers block – she simply ends it when the play needs to come to a close.

All I can say is, thank goodness for Judy Leavell and the production team at Georgia Ensemble for fashioning the whole thing into a palatable, if slightly too long evening’s entertainment.

So, if you don’t mind taking my advice, see this if you’re a fan of Ann Landers. Don’t if you’re not. And, if I’m wrong, just give me forty lashes with a wet noodle.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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