Review by Tulis McCall
14 Oct 2009
How I feel about one-person shows (with the exception of my own, of course) is pretty much the same way I feel about small dogs – mostly useless, vanity trophies, that would be better used as drop kick candidates.
Then, every once in awhile I come across a little dog, or a one-person show, that I not only like, but that I really, really like. The Lady With All The Answers is one o’ them.
The title of this play about Ann Landers (whom I read maybe 10 times in my life) comes from a phrase she used in a letter she wrote to her readers in 1975. It was a difficult, very personal letter. It is this letter’s content around which the play is built. Ann is pulling an all-nighter, tucked into the extraordinary set by Neil Patel – just the right combination of money and some wear and tear. She is avoiding the letter that is peeking out of her electric typewriter with a cuppa something, a box of chocolates, three phone calls – and talking to us. We are welcome guests and diversions as she slogs through her writer’s block.’
And the reason that it works is #1) David Rambo’s writing and #2) Judith Ivey’s performance. Rambo understands how to get the most bang for your buck. He has created a script in which Landers rarely tells us what she feels or thinks – she sticks to the facts. Some of these are personal: Real Name Esther "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer – Eppie; one of twins born on July 4, 1918. Her twin Pauline “Po-po” Esther Friedman Philips became “Dear Abby” in 1956, one year after Eppie had landed the Ann Landers Column in Chicago. It was a hurt that never healed, and one that is carried on by the next generation to this day. Marriage to Jules Lederer; and one daughter whom she adores. These personal bits are woven in with the letters that she received and answered and, on this night, is sorting through for inclusion in a book.
Ivey takes the task at hand to heart. Her Landers is peripatetic. She rarely stops moving, and if she does, you know she has not stopped thinking. She is always one step ahead of herself and is occasionally taken aback when she pauses long enough to let something sink in. Ivey has nearly nailed that quirky accent of Landers – the Midwest (Where we don’t HAVE sex!) flat flat flat sound with that sibilants S tucked into her right cheek. At times Ivey lets it go in favor of emotional intent. She also laughs at her own jokes once or twice too often, but on the whole Ivey succeeds in creating a person that we may or may not adore, but with by whom we are captivated.
The minor glitches in the script come when facts and figures are delivered for no reasons. Far more successful are the statistics applied to a story, as in “How many people do you suppose answered the question: If you had it to do over again would you marry the same person?” We hear several guesses from the audience, because she has truly asked us. The answer: 141,000 and “82% said no. All this before the Internet.
B.J. Jones has guided the writing and the acting into a confluence of all that is good in theatre. This Ann Landers steers clear of self pity when she sees it coming, although sadness sneaks up and bites her on the behind every so often. Bitterness is a spice she uses just enough of to make the story hold together. Humor is a steady companion. Work is her salvation.
The show leaves you with the feeling that, had Landers been able to do an evening like this, where a few hundred of her most intimate readers would be arms-length-away-companions on a one of those long nights when she had writers block – she would have done this in a heart beat. As she leaves the stage, Ivey mouths “Write me,” and damn if I didn’t want to.
CHARLES ISHERWOOD for NEW YORK TIMES says, "A genial primer on a genial subject, but not much more."
ELISABETH VINCENTELLI for NEW YORK POST says, "A mildly entertaining diversion."
LINDA WINER for NEWSDAY says, "The play knows what it wants to do and does it with friendly efficiency."
ERIK HAGENSEN for BACK STAGE says, "Offers the pleasure and affords the privilege of watching a great actor at work."
JENNIFER FARRAR for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "Judith Ivey is absolutely charming"
MARILYN STASIO for VARIETY says, "Diverting showpiece."