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By Jenn McKee
To me, a kid who grew up in the '70s, Ann Landers was a photo in the newspaper, a woman with big hair who authoritatively offered short, no-nonsense answers to people seeking advice.
But in David Rambo's The Lady with All the Answers, a one-woman show now playing at Northville's Tipping Point Theatre, you not only get to know the woman behind the hair (whose real name was Eppie Lederer) more personally; you also come to understand why perfect strangers were so compelled to confide in her.
This is partly due to Rambo's fun, fizzy script, but a lion's share of the credit goes to Julia Glander, who's so terrific in the role that it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. (I watched the show's final preview performance.)
Set on an evening in 1975, when Lederer is procrastinating from writing a difficult column – wherein she confesses to her readers, after advising against divorce for years, that her own marriage is ending – she shares personal memories and experiences, as well as some of her most memorable letters, which she's compiling into a book.
These tangents offer Glander the chance to address and interact with the audience in the best way possible. As Lederer, she takes informal polls about marriage, which way toilet paper rolls should hang, and large-scale regrets; but she also offers chocolates while chatting, and improvises marvelously when audience members occasionally get into the act more than expected.
One of the main reasons Lady works so well is because Glander makes Eppie a warm, irresistibly charismatic presence who's as unflappable as she is funny and compassionate. You just enjoy being in her presence.
The play is performed in-the-round, which provides Glander and director Quintessa Gallinat with occasional sightline challenges; one section of the audience is essentially immersed into the show, surrounded by two stairways and a landing that are extensions of Michelle LeRoy's tastefully simple set (evoking Lederer's posh Lakeshore Drive apartment).
Yet because Lederer is an energetic persona, Glander never remains in one place for long, and her movements both feel natural and make sightline issues relatively minor. Besides, Glander's physical presence in the crowd – one of her couches is integrated into a row of seats – collapses any barrier there might be, as befits the script's interactive style.
Sally Converse-Doucette's costumes hit the right tone, in that Lederer's clothes look '70's chic without being fussy or gaudy. Ruth Nardecchia's lighting design emphasizes key moments with skilled subtlety, and Samantha Lowry's props are the details that help keep us situated in the play's inviting little world for 90-plus minutes.
And while the script may leave you wanting more information about Lederer's husband's affair, and how this painful experience affected her work and outlook, Tipping Point's production is so enjoyable that you'll easily forgive the playwright's oversights. Thanks to Gallinat's thoughtful direction, and Glander's knockout performance, I was charmed from start to finish.
Signed, Mesmerized in Michigan.
A Michigan premiere at Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E Cady St, Northville. Thursday-Sunday through Feb. 28. Tickets: $25-$27. For information: 248-347-0003 or www.tippingpointtheatre.com.
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