Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS • Max & Louie Productions

Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer, better know as Ann Landers, took over the Chicago Sun-Times's 'Ask Ann Landers' column in 1955 after the death of its creator, Ruth Crowley.  During the next 47 years, readers across the country wrote to Ann with questions about everything from sex and marriage, to how to properly hang toilet paper.  Questions you may not feel comfortable discussing with your priest, friends, or even your spouse could be shared with Ann Landers.  Lederer also weighed in on the more complex issues of the day, including politics, abortion and homosexuality.  She became a media celebrity, yet still answered every letter herself, as long as it had a return address, and her column was enjoyed by millions along with their morning cup of coffee.  This 2006 one-woman show, written by David Rambo, and fluently directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga, is set in 1975 and was based on Lederer's letters and life stories.

As the lights come up and we drop in for a late night visit with Eppie (a spot-on Stellie Siteman), she's sporting a red pantsuit and a bouffant to touch high heaven.  She's hesitantly approaching, then backing away from her typewriter.  See, there's some work she's been putting off -- described by her to be the "most difficult column of her career."  What better way to procrastinate than to engage with a few of her readers?  Eppie jumps at the chance and reads to us from some of her favorite letters (she's planning on putting together a book).  These first few letters she reads include some of her lighter fare -- a woman who wonders whether or not it's okay to do housework naked (I vote yes), and a woman whose husband embarrasses her by dressing up like Tarzan and dropping down from a tree onto unsuspecting guests.  These early moments draw us in, and Siteman's liveliness is hard to resist.  Eppie tells us that she's never claimed to be an expert on anything, but that she does have one hell of a Rolodex.  Her musings are interrupted a couple of times with phone calls from her family.  These opportunities are used to share a little of her history with us, including the antagonistic relationship with her twin sister and rival, Pauline, "Popo", who wrote the "Dear Abby" column.  We also learn about her marriage to Jules Lederer, and the daughter she adored, Margo.

Stellie Siteman (Ann)
Photo credit: Lisa Mandel
After an intermission for us, a bubble bath for her, and more anecdotes about (among other things) her appearance on television to discuss "Deep Throat" and a visit to Vietnam, she realizes that she can't put off the task at hand any longer, and forces herself to finish the column she's been dreading.  After dispensing advice to the lovelorn, and expressing her belief that husbands and wives must try to soldier on in the face of hard times, she's compelled to tell her readers that her marriage of 36 years has come to an end.  Her husband Jules had fallen in love with a younger woman some three years earlier.  We never really find out any more than that, only that she feels an obligation to her readers to admit that her own marriage has fallen apart.

Stellie Siteman really nails Ann Landers, down to that Chicago dialect, and she achieves a nice balance between blunt straightforwardness and good humor.  She's really fun to watch.  Christopher M. Waller's smartly designed set provides her with plenty of room to prance back and forth, and the lighting by Glenn Dunn seems to follow her moods and reminiscences.

Now, the play never really digs too deeply into the life of Eppie Lederer, her divorce, or her feud with her sister.  These details are just kind of bypassed, but it's still an engaging portrait.  If you're up for a nostalgic little charmer, this is the one.


Written by David Rambo
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
through May 22 | tickets: $30 - $35  
Performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm, final Sunday performance at 7pm

Stellie Siteman (Ann Landers).

Scenic design by Christopher M. Waller; lighting design by Glenn Dunn; sound design by Rusty Wandall; First Act suit by Paula Johnson; wig stylist, Mary Peat of Jaleh Coiffures; stage manager, Eric Nathan Brady.

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