Lady With All the Answers misses the mark

Kerri Shawn as "Eppie" Eppler (Ann Landers) lectures the audience in The Lady With all the Answers at CenterRep, Walnut Creek.

THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS: Dramatic Monolog by David Rambo, directed by Scott Denison, starring: Kerri Shawn. Center REPertory Company 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. April 28 - May 15, 2011.

"The Lady With All the Answers" is a solo show with talented Kerri Shaw impersonating advice columnist Ann Landers sharing one of the most difficult evenings in her career, writing a column about her upcoming divorce. Her husband Jules is leaving her after 36 years of marriage. After sitting through a tedious 40-minute first act an appropriate question could be heard, “Why did Jules wait so long to split from a woman with so much chutzpah?”

If it was author David Rambo, director Scott Denison and actor Kerri Shaw’s intent to present a sympathetic patina to a self-aggrandizing controversial figure such as Ann Landers, they have missed the mark. The play, if you can call it that, is a mish-mash of readings from letters and direct address to the audience often in questioning form, taking polls on various subjects. Three questions that she often repeats deal with the proper way to hang the toilet paper role, who would get a married again to the same man and is it kosher to insist your male spouse wear a motorcycle helmet while having sex.

The author mixes the letter reading and decision-making about which will be mentioned in her autobiography, with her struggle to write “the most important column of her career.” We get a condensed version of that bio beginning with her birth as an identical twin, nicknamed “PoPo” who eventually became a competitor as the author of Dear Abbey. She was born was born Esther Pauline Friedman with a nickname of “Eppie” and in 1955 replaced the deceased Ruth Crowley as the author of the Chicago Sun-Times “Ann Landers” column. She tells us that she was a simple Jewish girl who parlayed her “chutzpah and one hell of a Rolodex” into a life-long venture. She also broke an engagement with one man to marry an improvised entrepreneur Jules Eppler who founded Budget Rent a Car. Jules kept Eppie in style with fur coats, jewels etc and they ended up living in a glitzy high-rise apartment (condo?) on Chicago’s plush North Shore Drive.

The action of this “play” takes place on Kelly Tighe’s sumptuous apartment set and it is 1975. For an inexplicable reason, director Densison has difficulty moving Kerri Shawn about the stage and in one five minute stretch has her doing aerobics on a grand hassock while reading letters to the audience. Eppie drops names of her many “friends” she has met, including President Lydon B. Johnson who agreed to send her on a tour of hospitals in Vietnam. She also credits herself with bringing homosexuality into the public consciousness, being almost solely responsible for obtaining government funding for cancer research and being the nation’s torchbearer for the anti-divorce faction she favors. This goes on and on.

To be fair, you must separate the on stage personae of Ann Landers with the professional performance of Kerri Shaw. It is not her fault that Ann Landers comes off as an apparent self-centered egoist. In an excellent second act, Eppie finally gets the column announcing her divorce completed. She never answers the gutsy question asked of the audience of whether she would marry the same man again. But, in a simple act involving the label in the fur coat she wears and fondles when she remembers Jules, gives you a clue to her unspoken answer.

Running time: 40 minute Act 1 and 30 minute Act 2.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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