Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009

Laura Gordon and Ann Landers

Milwaukee Rep's New Mainstage SHow

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The Milwaukee Rep continues its main stage season at the Quadracci with a production of David Rambo’s The Lady With All The Answers. A one-woman show about Ann Landers would normally turn me off to no end . . . there has been a flurry of one-person shows about historical figures this season and the thought of seeing one more wasn’t exactly appealing—especially seeing as how that one person happens to be Ann Landers. The legendary advice columnist was a favorite of my grade school teachers in the early ‘80’s . . . and consequently someone I would naturally have no interest in at all whatsoever. Making matters worse are reviews of other productions of the play, which seem to suggest that there isn’t that much depth to the character as presented in the David Rambo script.

Having seen the Milwaukee Rep production of The Lady With All The Answers, I tend to agree with the criticisms of Rambo’s script. Honestly, it feels like this is a breezy tribute to an author the playwright happened to write. (I could see myself quickly hashing out a similar script about Philip K. Dick or Douglas Adams. It’s really nice that you love an author, but writing a monologue fashioned out of their writing style seems a bit pointless.) The big success that Rambo has here is conveying the fun of writing the script in the script itself. The biggest success of the Milwaukee Rep production is how brilliantly it delivers that fun to the audience.

Bill Clarke’s scenic design is that of an exceedingly cozy office/living room space. It all feels very natural and very 1975. (My wife, however, asked my why the furniture was all pointed in the same direction: towards the audience. I told her that it was because they were on a theatrical set. The question did make the set look a bit unnatural. Such is the consequence of marrying a woman with interior designers in her family.) There at the desk was the a classy, old electric typewriter. The wall of metal filing cabinets behind it. And after a brief pre-recorded announcement from Rose Pickering, the show started.


The center of it all is Laura Gordon as Eppie Lederer—the second woman to take the pen name of Ann Landers. The period-friendly costuming and distinctive hairstyling (courtesy of Holly Payne, Amy Horst in costuming and I believe Lara Dalbey in hair) make a strikingly uncanny visual translation of the character. Laura Gordon does the rest. My disinterest in seeing the show vanished when I found out Laura Gordon would be the actress in the one-person show and she does not disappoint. Gordon’s overwhelmingly charming charisma carries the show beautifully. Thanks go out to exiting Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy for giving Gordon the same one-actress spotlight it lent Deborah Staples last season in The Blonde, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. Hanging out in the Quadracci with Laura Gordon as Ann Landers for the better part of a couple of hours is a great pleasure. Gordon orchestrates the character’s informality with a practiced sense of rhythm and timing. The script allows her moments of comedy and tragedy. There’s no over-the-top intensity here, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s just Landers, her audience, Laura Gordon and the Rep mixing together for an engrossing evening that explores the nature of intimacy in the last half of the 20th century.

With online forums and social networking websites gradually taking the place of newspaper columnists for anonymous advice, it won’t be long before advice columnists vanish altogether. Laura Gordon and the Rep make for an enjoyable opportunity to spend some time with the highest profile advice columnist in history.


The Milwaukee Rep’s production of The Lady With All The Answers runs through December 20th at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre. 

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