Janet Ulrich Brooks captures Landers’ personality and professionalism
by Katie Arvia
MUNSTER, Ind. (July 17) – Ann Landers was before my time. Although I had heard her name, I was unfamiliar with her work. So for me, Ann Landers: The Lady with All the Answers, at Munster’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts, became an opportunity to learn more about the trailblazing writers who paved the way for the next generation of journalists.
The play, written by David Rambo, tells the story of Esther “Eppie” Lederer, better known by her pen name Ann Landers. The entire play takes place in Ann Landers’ Chicago apartment in 1975, where Landers is faced with writing the most difficult column of her career.
Janet Ulrich Brooks plays the title (and only) character. When I realized that The Lady with All the Answers was a one-woman show, I was skeptical about how interesting it could possibly be. How in the world could anyone carry an 80-minute show on her own? But after 20 minutes of glancing hopefully at the stage doors, waiting for a supporting cast to join Brooks, I realized I was enjoying this solo performance.
Brooks’ portrayal of Landers is excellent: her seamless audience interaction, perfect comedic timing, and range of emotion are just a few elements of what makes The Lady with All the Answers so enjoyable. As a writer, I could particularly relate to Ann’s struggle to find the right words for her column. As a person, I could relate to her struggle to redefine herself after a life-changing problem.
Landers weaves a story for the audience—her readers—of her early childhood, sharing insights on growing up with an identical twin sister, Pauline “Popo” Phillips, who went on to write the Dear Abby column as Abigail van Buren in 1956. She also shares some of her favorite letters from advice seekers, and the audience laughs at both the question and Landers’ friendly, matter-of-fact answers. The proper way to hang toilet paper, whether it’s ok to vacuum in the nude, and Landers’ appearance on national television explaining the movie Deep Throat are just a few of the anecdotes that Brooks delivers with expertise.
Serious moments transpire as well, especially when Ann recounts her time in Vietnam visiting wounded soldiers. Brooks’ performance in the last 10 minutes of the production is a validation of her wonderful acting skills, and it’s a tribute to Landers’ real, human connection to her audience too.
In the end, the story comes full circle. The play began with a reader reaching out to Ann Landers, and it ended with Ann Landers reaching out to her readers. Act II reminds the audience that it’s okay to be vulnerable, even if you do have 60 million readers. Sometimes it’s okay not to have all the answers.
The Lady with All the Answers will run at the Theatre at the Center until August 12. On July 17 and 25, a post-show discussion will follow the performance and give the audience the opportunity to ask the cast questions. On August 2, a pre-show dinner will be available to theater patrons—for $55, guests can enjoy dinner and a show, plus fun surprises.
In addition, a wonderful free exhibit is currently on display in the theater’s lobby until September 3. “Making Headlines: From Ann Landers to Walter Winchell” features treasures such as Landers’ personal typewriter, autographed memorabilia, and other rare artifacts from the personal collection of Phil Potempa, Post-Tribune columnist.
Theatre at the Center is located within the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, at 1040 Ridge Road in Munster, Indiana. Call 219-836-3255 for more information.