Opening Nights: The Lady With All the Answers

A somnambulant play about a plucky gal.

Back in the day, advice columnist Ann Landers and her sister (the Abby of "Dear Abby") were syndication megastars. Together, and often in heated competition, they wrangled in national daily columns over topics ranging from the sexual revolution and war to which way toilet paper should hang on the roller. David Rambo's tepid one-woman play is based on a pivotal moment in the life of Ann—in reality, Eppie Lederer, a Midwestern Jewish go-getter 17 minutes older than her twin and rival, whom she lovingly refers to as "Po-Po." It's late one night in 1975, a true Garden of Gethsemane moment for her, as she explains to the audience, because she's writing the most important column of her career. How Eppie became Ann Landers is a fascinating yarn; there's really not much known about many of the women in her generation—those plucky gals sandwiched between the Greatest Generation and the baby boomers. And there's a mildly amusing vignette here describing Landers' appearance on a TV talk show opposite Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace. But this memory-lane stroll is presented without a trace of irony—comparable to two hours in Hell's waiting room, where the wall-mounted TV broadcasts only Merv Griffin, The Lawrence Welk Show, and reruns of Match Game. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton mutes, dilutes, and distracts instead of honing in on Ann's vivacious personality. At several points, she has actor Julie Briskman put an LP on the turntable, only to have her remove it less than two minutes later. The first time, it baffled me. The second drove me batshit. Briskman is fine at commanding the stage, but the costumes (by Melanie Taylor Burgess) take her past any resemblance to Landers and perilously close to Dame Edna territory. Then there's the show's somnambulant pace, which is v-e-r-y soothing, akin to shuffling with tray in hands down a cafeteria line. Oh, look, there's a set piece about Ann on the Vietnam War next to the meatloaf. There's Ann on a woman's right to choose, just between the Jell-O mold and the three-bean salad. And finally, here's Ann on the eve of her most important column ever, and it's no spicier than the navy-bean soup gleaming in a big metal tub just before the margarine and checkout register. You'll get more excitement out of a Thorazine drip, I promise you.

 
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