If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
All About Ann Landers in Hartford
David Rambo’s new play about advice columnist Ann Landers, “The Lady With All the Answers”, is a pleasant surprise currently on the boards at TheaterWorks in Hartford. Featuring a warmly engaging solo performance by Charlotte Booker as Landers, this delightful confection is not the type of play we’re used to seeing at TheaterWorks which usually trades in edgier fare. The crowd-pleasing production, however, found few if any foes in the packed audience I caught in Hartford. There’s little to complain about here.
Set in 1975 as Landers is facing a crucial deadline for a column that would be a life-changer for her, “The Lady With All the Answers” is a social history of sorts about a woman who tackled taboo issues long before Dr. Phil or Gerry Springer came on the scene. Infidelity, divorce, sex, abortion, homosexuality – no issue was too controversial or lurid for the nice Midwest Jewish girl whose real name was Esther Pauline Lederer. Peppered with choice letters that Landers actually received and printed – the correct way to hang toilet paper proved a polarizing topic – “The Lady With All the Answers” will no doubt ring a few nostalgic bells for theatergoers of a certain age.
Is it a great play? Hardly. There is no stunning revelation or larger story to be told here and Rambo makes the character a tad self-congratulatory at times. The ending, also, is rather abrupt and not wholly satisfying. But “The Lady With All the Answers” does provide a winning showcase for an actress and Ms. Booker tackles it with relish. Nicely attired (with an eye for detail by costumer Kenneth Mooney), Booker manages to successfully suggest Landers’ singular speech pattern while displaying her folksy common sense and tossing off pithy one-liners with aplomb (“2 pickles shy of a turkey sandwich” is one of my favorites).
This is a performance very much shared with the audience and there is never a sense that Booker is playing at the woman. Rather she smoothly and without artifice just becomes Ann Landers and graciously invites us into her home. By curtain you really do feel like you’ve spent some quality time with the world’s best next-door-neighbor. Booker also essays the play’s bittersweet moments with humor and dignity. It’s a role she seems completely and comfortably in tune with; one she could probably play well into later life.
Steve Campo’s breezy direction keeps this slight entertainment at just around the 90-minute mark and Adrian W. Jones has provided a smart setting with choice furnishings (including an electric typewriter-- remember them?). With their assistance, Ms. Booker takes control and makes “The Lady With All the Answers” a most pleasing evening at the theatre.
“The Lady With All the Answers” continues at TheaterWorks through March 7th. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning February 24, 2010