Theater review: Booker captures Ann Landers to a T at Capital Rep Theatre

Except for about 10 minutes in Act II, when author David Rambo falls into the “and then this happene

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For Gazette theater writer Bill Buell’s preview of this show, click here.

‘The Lady With All the Answers’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany

WHEN: Through May 9; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $46-$31

MORE INFO: 445-7469 or

Except for about 10 minutes in Act II, when author David Rambo falls into the “and then this happened” mode of stage biography, “The Lady With All the Answers” is a clever piece of theater that features a brilliant performance by Charlotte Booker.

The lady? Advice columnist Ann Landers (nee Esther Pauline Friedman, born a twin to Pauline Esther Friedman on July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa).

For 47 years, her syndicated newspaper column served folks who needed an opinion or a shoulder to cry on. When she didn’t know much about a particular topic, she consulted an expert.

Sometimes she asked her readers to weigh in on a thorny issue; at other times they just told her what they thought anyway: thousands and thousands of letters, praising her, thanking her, or telling her off.

I read both Abby (her sister’s pen name) and Ann, so this play is a bit of nostalgia as well as a reminder that Landers was often ahead of the curve on controversial issues, like homosexuality: she was more open-minded than judgmental.

She was a die-hard Democrat who had no use for Senator Joe McCarthy, and she used her public voice to support worthy causes, like fighting cancer.

But she couldn’t answer one question: why did her husband, Julius, leave her for another woman after 36 years of marriage?

The play is built around Eppie’s attempt to write the famous column of July 1, 1975, in which she announces that her marriage is over.

Before we get to the reading of that column, Eppie Friedman Lederer regales us with letters from over the years about silly subjects — like which way to put toilet paper on the roller — and serious subjects, like sex. Between the reading of these letters, the occasional phone call, and steady interaction with the audience (taking polls, asking questions), bits of biographical material float to the surface in satisfyingly random fashion.

The only place Rambo abandons that technique is in a heavy-handed sequence about Vietnam, a scene more manufactured than organic.

This one-woman show is played on a period-perfect set by Adrian W. Jones (a Chicago apartment, replete with clunky electric typewriter). Kenneth Mooney’s colorful costumes, a slash of red lipstick, and Landers’ helmet of hair bring the woman herself to life.

The phenomenal Booker nails the flat Midwest accent, the mouth that (as I recall) sometimes twisted out the words, and the gee-whiz common sense attitude boiled down to amusing aphorisms.

And how she works the crowd! Booker doesn’t miss a chance for a double take or a crinkly smile when someone in the audience gives her a scrap to play off. A mistress of impeccable comic timing.

She can do quiet, too. With a catch in her voice or a stricken look, Booker takes us behind the celebrity to the calamity.

Director Steve Campo is the sharp pair of eyes and ears that a solo performer needs for pacing a two-act play.

A tier-three subject for a one-woman show, perhaps, but Landers witnessed this rapidly changing period of American history with a good heart and a way with words.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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