The Lady With All the Answers

A woman sitting a few seats down the row from me was completely amazed by Mimi Kennedy’s impersonation of the late, nationally syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers — not just the bouffant but the dead-on clanging midwest accent. Well, that’s a start. Now playwright David Rambo needs a play to back up Kennedy’s solo impersonation. Here, Landers spends a couple of hours sashaying around her Chicago study in 1975, eating chocolates when confronted with writer’s block and, during intermission, leaving us to take a bath. Gary Wissmann’s set is so detailed with multitudinous knickknacks, and photos, many of which go unused, it arouses the speculation that a more spartan and symbolic set would have justified the contrivance of Landers’ direct audience address. The evening’s pretext is that Landers is in the process of drafting a momentous letter to her readers announcing her divorce from her husband of 36 years — risky business for an advice columnist who has never counseled anyone to get divorced. Around this pretext are a series of anecdotal digressions about her husband, her daughter and her twin sister, rival “Popo,” who imitated her sister’s column with her own variation, “Dear Abby.” Our heroine rolls out her leftist credentials and how she came to overcome her own puritanical streak in a joint television interview with Linda Lovelace. But none of this is dramatic, it’s merely exposition in the style of “And then I wrote.” The possibilities for a real play rear themselves in Act 2, when Landers reveals the depth of homophobic bigotry that came from hostile replies to one of her columns supporting a gay teenager, and from the fury that came in responses to some of her well-intended advice that had adverse consequences. Yet our heroine brushes them both off with similar, sanctimonious disdain, as though bigots and victims of her bad advice were equals. Nothing legal they could do, she remarked of the victims — hardly an embrace of her responsibility to help people in distress. Somewhere in that responsibility, and her cavalier dismissal of it, lies a more penetrating drama yet to be written, something more closely resembling a play than a parade. Brendon Fox directs.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Oct. 24. Continues through Nov. 23, 2008