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Wednesday, May 25,2011

Advice and consent

Stormfield Theatre’s appealing ’Answers’ presents Ann Landers’ world in a different light

by Mary C. Cusack

“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is
one of those truisms that is not always true. And it’s probably
something that Eppie Lederer said at some time in the 47 years she wrote
as columnist Ann Landers. She was known to drop the occasional cliché
or bon mot, to be cute and clever and sometimes a wee bit snarky.


Which is exactly how Diane Dorsey plays her in Stormfield Theatre’s latest production, “The Lady With All the Answers.”


The one-woman show, directed by Stormfield founder and
artistic director Kristine Thatcher, is anachronistic in its setting but
refreshing in its optimistic tone.


The show will certainly appeal to an older demographic,
those who lived during the Ann Landers years. The uninitiated may
struggle to understand the cultural significance of this icon.


How can one explain to kids raised on the Internet that
people didn’t always air their dirty laundry on “Jerry Springer” or “Dr.
Drew,” or spew all of their most intimate issues out in Facebook or
Twitter posts? You see, kids, in the old days we wrote letters on paper,
mailed them in stamped envelopes to a woman in Chicago and eagerly
scanned the newspaper for weeks to see if she responded. 


It would seem this play would not resonate with a broad
audience. Yet, given the chance, it has the potential to grab the heart
of all but the most jaded souls. The play is set on the night that
Landers is writing her most difficult column, sharing with 60 million
readers her most painful revelation.


As she procrastinates, she shares with
the theatrical audience the story of her life. Landers details the
history of her sibling rivalry with identical twin Pauline “Popo”
Phillips, a.k.a. Dear Abby, explains how gumption got her the job as Ann
Landers and reveals how writing the column made her a more open-minded
person over time.


This is the beauty of the play: It is at once specific and
universal. It is a tribute to the life of one extraordinary woman who
touched millions of lives, yet it is also a study in
socio-cultural-political cycles. As Landers describes her trip to visit
wounded soldiers in Vietnam, one immediately thinks of soldiers
similarly damaged by the Iraq War. The more things change, the more they
stay the same.


Yet some things don’t always stay the same, as Landers has
discovered in her personal life. Author David Rambo has effectively
structured the script to build tension regarding the big secret that
Landers harbors, and when it is revealed, Dorsey drops it like a bomb;
one is so quickly charmed by Landers that her pain becomes the
audience’s pain.


As she excuses herself for intermission, Dorsey makes
Landers look completely used up, devastated by the impending changes in
her life.


She enters in the second act, reinvigorated by a soak in
the tub, and launches into the best parts of the script, tackling the
sexual revolution, gay rights and the power of the press to change
societal norms. Her tale of appearing on a TV show to discuss the famous
pornographic blockbuster “Deep Throat” is worth the price of admission
by itself.


“Lady” is not your grandma’s play. Its investigation of
the basic human needs for understanding, acceptance and love makes one
realize that even though times change, people stay the same. 


‘The Lady With All the Answers’
Stormfield Theatre,
201 Morgan Lane, Lansing
Through June 5
7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$18 Thursdays; $24 Fridays and Saturdays; $20 Sundays; seniors $2 off; $10 students with ID for all shows
Cash or check at the door one hour before showtime, or buy online at www.lansingarts.org
(517) 488-8450



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