Coyote StageWorks’ The Lady With All the Answers, a play by David Rambo, offers an inside look at the life of advice columnist Ann Landers.
Landers was part of American popular culture for decades, offering words of wisdom on everything from marital troubles to the proper method for hanging toilet paper. What many may not know is that the woman most of us know as Ann Landers was not the first Ann Landers.
Back in 1955, Landers (born Esther Pauline Friedman, or “Eppie”) was a comfortable wife and mother to one daughter. She began reading the original Ann Landers advice column in the Chicago Sun-Times. Not overly impressed, Landers called the paper, asking if she could help the columnist answer some of her mail. It turns out the original answer lady, a nurse named Ruth Crowley, had just died, and the paper was looking for a replacement. Eppie got the gig—which led to fame, fortune and the nickname “The Answer Lady.”
The multi-talented Gloria Loring stars as Landers, and she is terrific. Impeccably dressed and coiffed in a bouffant wig, Loring comes across as classy and elegant, yet down to earth, just as Landers herself was. She roams about her lovely Chicago apartment (the set is superb), alternately sharing letters from previous readers, answering new ones, and reminiscing about her life and career.
We learn that while shopping for bridal veils for a double-wedding with her twin sister Pauline (who later became Dear Abby), Landers fell for the salesman and later married him after breaking off her engagement. And many folks may not be aware of just how politically active Eppie was: An avid Democrat, she went to Washington, D.C., as a young wife and got to know Hubert Humphrey, Justice William O. Douglas and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower. When she later quoted them all in her columns, her editor worried the paper would be sued for fraud—until Landers assured him that these men were indeed her friends. Landers was vehemently against the Vietnam War, and frequently told Lyndon B. Johnson that the U.S. needed to get out of the conflict. He would look at her sadly and reply, “I know, Eppie, I know.” She visited hundreds of hospitals in Vietmam, and spent hours calling soldiers’ families with words of comfort and reassurance.
Though Ann Landers counseled the masses through marital discord—likely saving many marriages—she could not save her own. When, after 30-plus years of wedded bliss, her husband confessed to a three-year affair with a much-younger woman, Landers simply announced: “This marriage is over.” Her struggle to appropriately share this news with her readers in a column drives The Lady With All the Answers.
Loring is known as an actress on Days of Our Lives, as a singer on her No. 1 hit “Friends and Lovers” with Carl Anderson, as the author of several books including Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous, and for her philanthropy in the field of biomedical research after her son was diagnosed with diabetes. Here, Loring effortlessly conveys Landers’ warmth and humor. Her interactions with the audience are quite entertaining, particularly her surveys on how to hang toilet paper and a discussion on teenage sexual experimentation.
Loring has a great stage presence and perfect diction. Carrying a one-person show is not easy, but she knocks it out of the park. She is particularly effective in moments of silence, letting the previous moment sink in before moving on to the next revelation. We feel her pain when discussing her divorce, yet she’s always dignified and in control.
Much credit also goes to director Don Amendolia, who elicits a spot-on performance from Loring and keeps the play moving along while maintaining a sense of intimacy.
If you’re someone who must have huge productions like Les Miserables, then The Lady With All the Answers may not be your cup of tea. But for those who love quiet, intimate, thought-provoking theater, it’s just the ticket.
The play allows us to really get to know Ms. Landers, a woman always spoke her mind. Now, one bit of advice from me: Go see Coyote Stageworks’ The Lady With All the Answers at the Annenberg Theater. It’s darn good.
Coyote StageWorks’ The Lady With All the Answers is performed at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 15; 2 p.m., Sunday, April 16; 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 19; 2 p.m., Thursday, April 20; 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 21; 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 22; and 2 p.m., Sunday, April 23, at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $45 to $60, and the show runs 105 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets or information, call 760-325-4490, or visit www.annenbergtheater.org.