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A Lady With All the Talent Plays
The Lady With All the Answers

Also see David's reviews of The Full Monty and A Doctor In Spite of Himself

The Lady With All the Answers
Julie Briskman
Growing up in Hawaii, reading the now gone but hardly forgotten Honolulu Advertiser daily, I never missed the Ann Landers advice column. Her real name was Esther ("Eppie") Lederer and, although she may not have been quite the "name" her twin sister and competing advice columnist "Dear Abby" (aka Pauline Phillips) was, she was equally popular. Now she is celebrated on the stage as The Lady With All the Answers in a gem of a concisely written one-woman show by David Rambo, perfectly paced at ACT by director Valerie Curtis-Newton and featuring as Ann Landers an actress Seattle audiences know to expect great things from, Julie Briskman. Even more good news: Briskman's tour-de-force here tops her high-watermark performances as the dishy bitchy Sylvia Fowler in The Women and as an ethereal vision of Mae West in Dirty Blonde, both also produced at ACT. It's a must see performance of the fall season.

Rambo's set-up for what amounts to a cozy, fireside chat between Eppie and her audience, finds her as ever at her typewriter, preparing to write an eventful, possibly career-ending column in 1975 as she had discovered her own husband Julius' marital infidelity and was preparing to leave the man whom she had been married to for 36 years (Note: The Ann Landers fan-base didn't waiver just because their icon had failed to keep her marriage alive, and she in fact received 30,000 letters of sympathy). But the play is more concerned, and successfully so, with taking us back to a very bold (for her time) lady who was a champion of her gay readers and made a stirring tour of military hospitals during the Vietnam war, which she disdained openly.

Briskman captures the quaint, warm, chatty lady quite spectacularly, quirky speech pattern and all, holding us in the palm of her hand as she reads excerpts from readers' letters and Ann's own amusing yet sage responses. Ann's phone conversations with her loving daughter and problematic sister whom she refers to by the nickname "Popo," as the one chat with her estranged husband, are all illuminating. A comic highlight of Briskman's performance is the recounting of how, after finding out what the film Deep Throat was about, Ann maneuvered her way into explaining it all to other ill-informed folks during an appearance on Irv Kupcinet's old TV talk show, alongside the film's star Linda Lovelace.

With the help of an "Ann Landers" wig and appropriate costuming by Melanie Taylor Burgess, Briskman, though a bigger-boned gal than Eppie, looks every inch like the lady you remember seeing on the talk shows of the day. Martin Christoffel's set is a marvel of the comfy, organized chaos of the columnist's comfy home office, with boxes of clippings strewn all around. The performance is ideally suited to the intimate confines of ACT's pocket-sized Bullitt Cabaret space.

The era of Ann Landers (final column published in 2002, shortly after her death in June of that year) seems as faded as your mother's old cameo brooch. Watching Briskman's evocative, touching portrayal made me long for the days of reading that column, right before jumping to the comics page to read what Snoopy and Blondie and the gang on Gasoline Alley were up to. Simple pleasures which nothing on the Internet can hope to approach.

The Lady With All the Answers runs at Seattle's ACT Theatre at 7th & Union Street, downtown Seattle through October 31st. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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