The Lady With All the Answers
Also see Fred's review of Compulsion
Insightful, clever and most amusing, Ann, also known as Eppie, appears in the living area of her Chicago apartment. Adrian W. Jones' set includes what one might expect: desk, couch, typewritersince this all occurs thirty-some years ago. Booker as Landers is on hand to chat with the audience about all of those letters she receives and her responses. Eppie references her twin sister, Popoof Dear Abby fame. Yes, the gigs seemed to be pretty much identical. No, the sisters were not always very best of friends. That seems to accompany the shared territory.
As even those who casually glanced at an Ann Landers column might recall, many souls write in with questions relating to sex and/or marriage. Much of the time, Eppie was comfortable and secure as the answer-woman since she enjoyed what she felt was a most secure relationship with her husband, Jules. After 36 years, however, they divorced since Jules admitted he had fallen for another (much younger) woman. The End.
Booker presents Ann Landers as a woman who was lively, colloquial and unafraid to discuss just about anything. She says, "I'm no prude. Just ask Hugh Hefner." During the second act, she remembers Linda Lovelace and the time she and Lovelace were on TV to converse about Deep Throat. So, too, Eppie was quite political. She was vociferous in her protest of the Vietnam War. She alludes to Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Eppie went to Vietnam to speak with injured military personnel. The play, one gathers, occurs during the mid-1970s.
Rambo's text includes a hilarious riff about different methods of hanging toilet paper: "back against the wall" versus "over the top." This is one of several sequences during the course of the play in which audience reaction is requested. TheaterWorks is a cozy place and it becomes easy and fitting for Booker to communicate with those watching her every move. I find it a bit much to revisit the toilet paper segment after intermission.
Landers reached somewhere between 60 and 90 million readers. Thus, she relied heavily upon her IBM Selectric typewriter and she filed her columns her work quite meticulously so that retrieval was easy.
While this is not a profound evening of theater (nor is it publicized as such), it surely holds one's attention. Booker is a most suitable choice to fill Eppie's shoes. The actress is warm, gracious and fluent. Her audience, as a result, feels in touch with her. She died in 2002 and I left the theater with the sense that many people miss her.
The Lady With All the Answers continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through March 7th. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol