In transforming the Tipping Point stage into Ann Landers's living room, set designer Michelle LeRoy held back, using a few key furniture pieces, an extravagant square of hardwood floor, and a wall in just one corner of the black-box space. But what an understatement it is: the wall is the first thing one sees from the theater lobby (like peering into a dollhouse window), giving the initial impression of a full interior without overwhelming the senses during the performance. Moreover, the in-the-round setup means the wall necessarily appears behind the audience, literally enveloping viewers into the setting, as does the furniture that skirts the line between seats and stage. The overall effect of this innovation serves as fair warning for what an intimate production is in store, and this staging of The Lady with All the Answers could not have been as successful without it.
The lady in question is Eppie Lederer, known to most as Ann Landers, as portrayed with gusto by Julia Glander. This one-woman show spans a late evening in 1975, as the world-famous advice columnist sorts through old letters for publication in a book, reminisces about her career and relationships, and slowly composes a column whose subject threatens to cancel out all her past advice about marriage: the one announcing her impending divorce. The lyrical script by David Rambo (with the cooperation of Lederer's daughter, Margo Howard) makes plenty of discoveries while skating toward its conclusion; a few scarce moments that rattled like a recited biography only stuck out in contrast to the exquisite character study that prevails.
Together, director Quintessa Gallinat and her sole actor strive to keep "peppy Eppie" moving, and her bouncing all over the apartment breezily complements the easily distracted but flowing narrative. (The spread-out set made for moments when Glander was not as visible to some rows, but these were fleeting, and well worth the set's effective sense of inclusion.) The reality of this show is one in which Eppie coexists with the people watching her, and she deftly shifts between moments of solitary contemplation, occasional banter with a willing observer, and a broader conversation with her "readers" (i.e., the audience at large). Glander is a hoot when she engages the audience, full of asides that predict their every reaction, as an expert on the human condition should be. But this uniquely accented woman is hardly superior; no, she's driven, catty, bewildered, affectionate, and above all perfectly human.
Tipping Point Theatre is eager to draw attention to the all-female production crew on this show, but that fact must neither serve to explain nor handicap the fantastic work on display. Costume designer Sally Converse-Doucette gives the effect not of a period work but of a time machine, from Glander's bouffant down to her hose under slacks, and properties by Samantha Lowry represent massive nightly rearrangement of files and envelopes. Ruth Nardecchia's lighting design shows her obvious comfort with the unconventional space, and sound by Julia Garlotte holds off for much of the action, giving Eppie the focus she deserves.
Gallinat pulls these elements together for a production that somehow stays utterly grounded even as it transcends reality. The character that she and Glander have created can keep an audience's attention for two acts almost effortlessly, a worthy tribute to the groundbreaking woman who became a household name. The Lady with All the Answers manages to be both offbeat and conventionally entertaining, with broad appeal for theater patrons of all kinds.
Tags: Tipping Point