Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 30, 2010

The Lady With All the Answers

Hartford TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through March 7, 2010
by Jarice Hanson

Biographical plays are always a challenge to mount when members of the audience have an image of the subject in their minds. David Rambo's The Lady With All the Answers portrays the life of Eppie Lederer, known as Ann Landers, on July 1, 1975 -- the eve of writing a deeply personal column. In this one-woman show, the talented Charlotte Booker bears a striking resemblance to Ann, and charms the audience with rapport and charisma by taking polls of the audience, composing her columns at her Selectric typewriter, and talking on the phone with her daughter, her husband, and her twin sister, the other popular advice columnist, "Dear Abby." Booker's attempt to affect a Chicago accent and Landers' quirky speech pattern are inconsistent, and she relies on smiles and warmth to tell the story of this woman who was reputed to have a temper, sharp tongue, and extravagant lifestyle.

Director Steve Campo effectively uses Adrian W. Jones' set in Lederer's Chicago living room, and Kenneth Mooney's costumes contribute an elegance that reflects Landers' popularity. Much of the material comes from the real letters and responses Ann Landers wrote from 1955-2002, chronicling American values and popular topics, from the correct way to hand a toilet paper roll, to the anguish of a 15-year old boy who struggles with coming out, or ending his life.

Booker represents Eppie as a feisty woman with strong morals, but perhaps because the subjects deal with issues from a simpler time, or because Booker has not yet been able to find the contradictions in Lederer's life that give the play the human tension it needs, the show falls flat.

While the audience awarded Booker with a standing ovation, the production still needs to find the appropriate balance between human anguish and humor, which Ann Landers affected so well.