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posted: 9/14/2012 5:00 AM

BTE's 'Lady' an endearing tribute to Ann Landers

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  • Amelia Barrett stars as advice columnist Ann Landers (aka Eppie Lederer) in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of David Rambo's "The Lady with All the Answers" in College of DuPage's Building K Theatre in Glen Ellyn.

      Amelia Barrett stars as advice columnist Ann Landers (aka Eppie Lederer) in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of David Rambo's "The Lady with All the Answers" in College of DuPage's Building K Theatre in Glen Ellyn.
    Courtesy of Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

  • Amelia Barrett stars as advice columnist Ann Landers (aka Eppie Lederer) in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of David Rambo's "The Lady with All the Answers" in College of DuPage's Building K Theatre in Glen Ellyn.

      Amelia Barrett stars as advice columnist Ann Landers (aka Eppie Lederer) in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of David Rambo's "The Lady with All the Answers" in College of DuPage's Building K Theatre in Glen Ellyn.
    Courtesy of Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

 
 

Since the McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn is currently undergoing a $35 million renovation through early 2014, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble has had to relocate to a new venue at College of DuPage. But don't let the generically named Building-K on the west side of campus deter you from catching Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of "The Lady with All the Answers," a one-woman bio-play about the late newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers.

Originally staged at Skokie's Northlight Theatre in 2008 before transferring to New York in 2009, "The Lady with All the Answers" was penned by David Rambo and incorporates letters sent to and answered by Landers (actually a pen name for Eppie Lederer), who at the height of her fame commanded 60 million readers via her syndicated column that ran from 1955 to 2002.

Yet, "The Lady with All the Answers" logically shouldn't really work the way it is structured.

Rambo sets the play on the night in 1975 when Lederer had to write the column that was her most personal -- one that could have potentially ended her career. But at the same time, Landers is showboating around her luxurious 14-room Lake Shore Drive apartment as a beloved media personality, picking and choosing choice letters for a forthcoming book she's compiling and going so far as to poll the audience (who are somehow present on the night of her predicament) on relationship and bathroom matters.

But if you can get past these dramaturgical inconsistencies and sometimes uncomfortable shifts in tone, "The Lady with All the Answers" is actually an entertaining vehicle to celebrate and remember Lederer as Ann Landers.

The biographical details of her extraordinary life are breezily brought up, including her July 4 birthday and her ongoing rivalry with her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, who took up the competing syndicated advice column Dear Abby under the pen name of Abigail Van Buren in 1956.

The joy of "The Lady with All the Answers" is recalling the major influence Lederer as Landers had on helping readers and offering insights that no doubt changed many opinions on a variety of controversial topics, including homosexuality, abortion and suicide. The play also succeeds since it captures the bubbling and serious sides of Lederer's helpful personality that made her so endearing (and in some cases, a lifeline) to so many readers.

Like the mixed-bag points of the play's structure, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of "The Lady with All the Answers," directed by Connie Canaday Howard, is more good-enough than truly great. Little details distract, ranging from the odd placement of wall paintings in set designer Michael W. Moon's take on Lederer's luxury Chicago apartment to the not-always-exact sound designs of Galen G. Ramsey (especially when Lederer changes her records).

As Lederer, Amelia Barrett certainly looks like she's having a ball onstage, especially when engaging the audience on matters regarding sex and toilet tissue protocol. But Barrett could plumb Lederer's fear and doubt a bit more deeply as her private life-changing conflict is soon to become very public via her column. And though Barrett is endearing, her comic timing and the accent she deploys could do with some slight fine-tuning as the run continues.

"The Lady with All the Answers" isn't perfect, but Buffalo Theatre Ensemble ultimately gets the job done and shows that a shift in spaces is not going to stop the company from putting on a good show.

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