Volume 79, Number 19 | Oct 14 - 20, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


THEATER Review

Long before Oprah, Ann Landers gave good advice

Two-time Tony winner Ivey nails the accent, understands the icon

By Scott Harrah

Judith Ivey gives one of the best performances of her career as the late advice columnist Ann Landers.

Although she superbly recreates the Chicago-based legend — from the nasal Midwestern accent to the elegant, ultra-feminine mannerisms —Ivey’s razor-sharp delivery of the columnist’s folksy one-liners makes this performance more than just one of skilled mimicry.

“The Lady With All the Answers” may not be a definitive bio-drama about Ann Landers, but Ivey, under the top-notch direction of BJ Jones, is incandescent throughout— adding depth to the character with an engaging mix of emotion and humor.

David Rambo’s script, based on a book about Landers by her daughter Margo, is not always compelling; but it vividly depicts the life of one of America’s most successful journalists. Landers — whose real name was Esther Pauline “Eppie” Friedman Lederer — was a nice Jewish girl from Iowa who married a man that knew many influential people (from Supreme Court justices to President Johnson and Eisenhower). When “Eppie” took over the syndicated Ann Landers column in 1955, she knew she was no expert, so she went to her famous friends for answers to readers’ questions.

“The Lady With All the Answers” is set on an evening in 1975 as Landers struggles to write a column about her divorce from longtime husband Jules. Landers, who was against divorce and urged readers to seek counseling when their marriages fell apart, was devastated about revealing that she was splitting up with her spouse after 36 years.  “I’ve been so anti-divorce, my dateline could be Vatican City,” she says.

The play also covers her feud with twin sister and rival “Popo,” who wrote the popular “Dear Abby” column. Most of the first act gives Landers’s backstory — how she met Jules, how she landed the column — and is less dramatic than biographical. It’s not until act two that we really learn what a remarkable lady Landers was.

A strong anti-war activist, she toured Vietnam — sporting her bouffant hairdo and lots of Chanel Number Five — and met with countless soldiers in hospitals.  She then personally telephoned each of their families upon returning to America. She never wrote about it or allowed any press coverage; she simply did so because she cared.

Landers was also one of the first journalists to openly discuss homosexuality in the media. Ivey brilliantly conveys Landers’s frustration about homophobia when she reads a letter that says, “The way you stick up for queers is disgusting. But I am not surprised seeing how you are an ultra left-winger, a Jew, and a woman.”

Shocked by such bigotry, she dryly quips to the audience that the letter writer “probably hates twins, too.” 

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