Cameo delivers writer’s block in two acts

Anna Gangai as Ann Landers in The Lady with All the Answers.
Anna Gangai as Ann Landers in The Lady with All the Answers.

In The Lady with All the Answers — a new one-woman biographical play about Ann Landers — author David Rambo aims low and succeeds. Other playwrights might exploit a monologue for its powerful psychological possibilities, but Rambo’s more interested in dispensing amusing anecdotes, liberally drawn (and sometimes recited) from Landers’ own advice columns. Only in the play’s second act — during Landers’ impassioned speeches concerning sexuality and Vietnam — does Rambo profitably employ the powers of the dramatic form. Many of the expository passages would be just as enjoyable on a Kindle.

And that’s the problem with the whole set-up: The central dramatic action is writer’s block, which is about as gripping as it sounds. It’s 1975 and Eppie Lederer (aka Ann Landers) must compose her most difficult column, one that announces her shocking separation from her cheating husband, Jules. Landers’ understandable procrastination accounts for the digressive plot, but not for its bipartite structure: This is clearly a one-act play masquerading as two acts.

Still, the evening has its virtues. There are some entertaining sequences and factoids — who knew that the proper dispensation of toilet paper once roiled the American psyche? — and Anna Gangai’s solo turn is polished. But Gangai and director Matthew Cassi sometimes struggle with the large and unwieldy space of the Cameo; this is an intimate play best suited to a cozy black-box theater, where the audience feels it’s in a living room, not a concert hall. The production also lacks a certain warmth: We want to love Ann Landers, but for “a lady with all the answers,” she’s infuriatingly coy about the answers we’re really looking for. (For instance, we want the dish on her husband’s affair, and we want it now! Out with it, Annie!)

Except for some audio troubles, last weekend’s production values were strong, with a handsomely appointed set by the mysterious Onoshi Dident, and some subtle and welcome lighting effects by James Thomas.

So is it worth your time to spend a light and chatty evening with Ann Landers? For some summer theatergoers, I suspect it may be — but in the end, only you have the answer to that. •

The Lady with All the Answers

8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun
Cameo Theatre
1123 E Commerce
(210) 212-5454
Though July 31

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