Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Lady WIth All the Answers


By David Rambo. Directed by B.J. Jones. At Cherry Lane Theater through November 29th

Imagine if you will a bizarro world where plays have elaborately constructed previews before movies. Now imagine the smokey bass voice-over intoning the words "Judith. Ivey. IS. Ann. Landers." You now know pretty much all you need to know about The Woman With All The Answers, the new one-woman bioplay at the Cherry Lane that's getting a fairly predictable crop of positive, unenthusiastic notices. Ivey gets high marks, while the reviews for the script can be summarized by the following quote from Matthew Murray: " The play itself may be pure pabulum, but it’s hard to resist the homey notion of a stranger who cares about others so much she just has to solve all their life issues."

Backstage A-
(Erik Haagensen) [Ivey] mines Rambo's script for every ounce of subtext and can change the emotional temperature on stage instantly, whether with a glance, a shrug, or a vocal modulation...Ivey creates a warm camaraderie with us while always remaining firmly, effortlessly in character...Where Rambo falters is in exposing Eppie's emotional core. Admittedly, he's hamstrung by the fact that she is a deeply private person who would never share her dirty laundry with the world. Indeed, she tells us so herself. But the play should at least suggest why the crisis has occurred in Eppie's life, and it never does. Fortunately, Ivey's performance is so human and specific that she almost compensates.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) This diverting showpiece has more on its mind than nostalgia for yesteryear, capturing the genial proto-Oprah at a crucible moment when her career as a professional know-it-all becomes unexpectedly imperiled by the meltdown of her own 35-year marriage.

NYTimes B
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. Rambo’s writing is breezy and fluid, although you can often hear the punch lines coming a few beats off. Fleetly directed by B J Jones, the play is a genial primer on a genial subject, but not much more. We never really learn the details of the juicy drama at its heart — how and with whom did Eppie’s husband fall in love? The Lady With All the Answers is sweet, frothy and insubstantial, like the Fresca that is Eppie’s beverage of choice.

TheaterMania B
(Adam R. Perlman) Rambo practically canonizes his subject, a Midwestern woman who spent half a century speaking out on issues previously only whispered-about in public, from sexual bondage to abortion to homosexuality to how to properly hang toilet paper. Fortunately, star Judith Ivey -- sporting Lederer's trademark bouffant hairdo and perfectly imitating her Midwestern Jewish speech pattern -- brings a groundedness to her portrayal of Lederer that blunts the script's self-aggrandizing storytelling...The Lady With All the Answers may not be accomplished theater; indeed, some viewers might find the whole enterprise overly cloying and cutesy. But it nevertheless both charms and informs its intended audience, much the way Ann Landers did in her day.

CurtainUp B
(Deirdre Donovan) This solo play premiered in 2008 at the Pasadena Playhouse (with Mimi Kennedy) and is now at the Cherry Lane Theater with two-time Tony award-winning actor Judith Ivey as Landers. Ivey channels the legendary journalist with chutzpah and razor-sharp intelligence. Not only does the Texan-born actor affect a convincing Midwestern accent but with her bouffant hair style (courtesy of Paul Huntley and comfortably chic outfits (by Martin Pakledinaz). she looks something like the actual Ann Landers Above all Ivey captures Landers' sharp wit and eagle-eye for seeing life from a broader perspective. But she is also endearingly "one of us" and just a bit vulnerable.

TalkinBroadway B
(Matthew Murray)Ivey, who first took on Landers last year in a production at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre Company, provides as much as it seems anyone could. Her comfortably squeaky voice, her quirky way of screwing up her nose in deference to a particularly choice comic nugget that doesn’t dislodge a strand of her bouffant hairdo, her rigid presentation of bone-deep aunt-next-door concern for well-being in all its forms. She even makes somber centerpieces of Landers’s contrived conflictions over her own disjointed state. That can’t be easy, given the lighthearted, genial nature of the rest of the play, which really feels like it just wants to be a cozy comedy for couples who’ve been married long enough to remember when Landers, like newspapers, truly meant something.

Lighting and Sound America B
(David Barbour) The script is nothing but a series of delaying tactics -- how many times can she not write the column -- and Rambo struggles to keep things going even for only 90 minutes, including intermission. Ivey is more than willing to massage her lines into something like a drama, but a vehicle is supposed to support the star, not the other way around. But oh, the hell with it: Ivey is irresistible, whether she's teasing the audience with a handful of letters about sex ("You really want to hear some of these, don't you," she smirks), modeling her floor-length fur, recalling how she took it upon herself to explain the details of oral sex on a local talk show, and showing a little steel in her smile as he deals with Jules on a long-distance call. From start to finish, she's the kind of funny, frank, foursquare dame you'd love to tell your troubles to.

NY Post B-
(Frank Scheck) How does the woman who's dispensed common-sense wisdom about everything under the sun fare when her husband of 30 years leaves her for a younger woman? It's a poignant hook on which to hang the evening, but ultimately it's insufficient to make this slight effort directed by B.J. Jones more than a mildly entertaining diversion, despite Judith Ivey's charming performance as the plain-spoken oracle.

BS A- 12; V B+ 11; TB B 10; NYT B 10; CU B 10; LSA B 10; TM B 10; NYP B- 9; TOTAL=82/8 = 10.28 (B)

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