Curtain Calls: Sally Hogarty
By Sally Hogarty
Posted 5/03/2011

When I attended a recent preview performance of The Lady With All The Answers at Center REP, I expected to see actress Kerri Shawn in a portrayal of advice diva, Ann Landers. But instead, I found myself enjoying an intimate chat with the legendary columnist herself!

Of course, Shawn was under the wig and behind the makeup and glittering jewels, but she had so completely transformed herself, including a very different higher-pitched voice with a Midwestern accent, that I had to remind myself it was Shawn.

"I began preparing for this role over a year ago," said Shawn, who memorized the 80-minute script two pages at a time.

During that time, Shawn read everything she could about Landers, watched interviews that she gave, and worked with a vocal coach to capture her voice.

Shawn certainly accomplished her mission. From her first moments on stage to her final exit, she charmed the audience with Landers' warmth and sense of humor -- often asking the audience questions with hilarious results.

In fact, the audience really becomes the second character in David Rambo's cleverly written play.

"I spend most of the play talking to the audience and asking them questions," says Shawn. "The play changes depending upon the responses I get. I was so nervous coming out for the first preview, but then I felt the energy and warmth of the audience, and it really made a difference."

I knew very little about Landers when I saw the show and was pleasantly surprised to find out how active she had been in a number of causes.

Her trip to Vietnam to visit wounded soldiers was especially insightful. Upon returning home, she made 2,500 phone calls to the soldiers' families and friends to let them know how their loved ones were doing.

During the course of the action, you are taken into Landers' confidence as she talks about her famous rivalry with her twin sister, the advice columnist Dear Abby.

Shawn as Landers has you laughing one minute and shedding a tear the next as she attempts to write her most difficult column -- the one where she tells her audience about her pending divorce.

Even before Shawn takes the stage, the audience is drawn into her world, thanks to Kelly Tighe's multilevel set festooned with appropriate props, including a large, treelike sculpture made from type-written pages and a Selectric typewriter. In the pre-computer age, this brand with its signature round typing ball was a favorite.

Sound designer Jeff Collister spent a bit of time on eBay searching for the timeless LPs that put you smack dab in the middle of the 1970s.

Well-directed by Shawn's husband and Center REP's managing director, Scott Denison, The Lady With all the Answers continues through May 15. (Note: NOW Extended through May 22)

A two-hour visit with the feisty woman who changed the face of printed advice columns
By George Heymont
Posted 5/14/2011

Center REPertory of Walnut Creek had much better luck with its recent staging of The Lady With All The Answers. Based on the life and letters of the famous advice columnist, Ann Landers (born Esther "Eppie" Lederer), this one-woman show was written by David Rambo with the help of Lederer's daughter, Margo Howard. Keenly aware of deadlines (the play takes place as Lederer is struggling to write the column she published on July 1, 1975 in which she confided that her marriage was breaking up), Lederer is also seen trying to sort out which letters she should include in an upcoming book.

Born in Sioux City Iowa on the 4th of July (her identical twin later became rival advice columnist Abigail van Buren, who wrote the Dear Abby column), Lederer and her husband Jules eventually settled in Chicago. She lived in a high-rise apartment on Lakeshore Drive for close to 30 years.

Lederer began writing the Ask Ann Landers column in October of 1955 (shortly after the death of its creator) and continued to do so for 47 years. At one point, her syndicated column appeared in 1,200 newspapers and was read by nearly 90 million people on a daily basis.

Directed by Scott Denison (on a unit set cluttered with "Dear Ann Landers" letters), this monologue rested on the able shoulders of actress Kerri Shawn. Decked out in a wig that brought back fond memories of Landers' frequent appearances on television, Shawn created a character of boundless zeal and curiosity who took as much delight in discovering what Americans had kept secret about their lives as she did in trying to help those suffering emotional and psychological pain.

Lederer (who enjoyed tremendous access to important politicians, doctors, and celebrities) always liked to boast about her willingness and ability to consult "the experts." Whether writing to a suicidal gay teenager to assure him that there was nothing wrong with him or visiting injured soldiers in Army hospitals in Viet Nam, Landers became a voice that Americans felt they could trust about all kinds of matters ranging from the proper way to hang toilet paper on its holder to previously taboo issues of intimacy and sexuality.

There is much fussiness and stage business throughout the evening which helps to stretch out the play's length while capturing the creative energy of someone who, like so many other writers, does her work in bits and spurts between stretches of procrastination. (Sex columnist Dan Savage now owns the desk where Lederer composed most of her writing when she was not working in her bathtub).

One of the show's high points is her description of the day she was about to appear on a talk show opposite porn star Linda Lovelace without fully understanding the meaning of "deep throat." Once her embarrassed daughter dished the dirt with Eppie, the feisty columnist saw this red-hot kernel of information as an opportunity to help educate her readers.

The Lady With All The Answers offers audiences a two-hour visit with the feisty woman who changed the face of printed advice columns. Performances continue at the Lesher Center's Knight Stage 3 Theatre through May 22 (you can order tickets here.)

My Haiku Review
By George Heymont
Posted 5/13/2011

HuffPost Arts' Haiku Reviews is a weekly feature where invited critics review exhibitions and performances in short form.

HAIKU: MY HAIKU REVIEW: Kerri Shawn brings Eppie Lederer to life in this one-woman show depicting the highs and lows of advice columnist Ann Landers. Shawn portrays Lederer as an ebullient woman with an enormous zeal for life who treasured and was thrilled by the secrets her readers shared with her. The high point of the evening is Lederer's hilarious description of her appearance opposite Deep Throat's Linda Lovelace on a television talk show.

An Interesting Production of The Lady With All the Answers
By Richard Connema

Kerri Shawn morphs herself into the beloved advice columnist Eppie Lederer, known as Ann Landers, in the current Center Repertory production of The Lady With All the Answers by David Rambo, running through May 22 at the Lesher's Knights 3 Theatre. David Rambo's writing is gutsy and fluid.

The one-hour forty-minute solo show is set in a luxurious, conservatively furnished living room on a late night in 1975. Eppie asks the audience, "What kind of nut writes to a newspaper columnist for advice?". This is a very difficult evening for her since she must write a column about her forthcoming divorce. Her husband is leaving her after 36 years of marriage for a much younger woman. As she tells the audience, she is going to write the most important column of her career.

Kerri Shawn addresses the audience as if we are the reading public and we have been granted a personal visit with the eccentric columnist. She talks about how she replaced the deceased Ruth Crowley as the author of the Chicago Sun-Times "Ann Landers" column. Her twin sister became the columnist "Dear Abby" and they talk to each other almost on a daily bases. She talks about her writings on homosexually, cancer, and matrimonial kinks, creating a frank national dialogue on these subjects.

The Lady With All the Answers runs one hour and forty minutes with intermission. It really does not need an intermission, but the journalist tells the audience, "I need to freshen up."

Kerri Shawn has a warm and bouncy presence and sometimes she reminded me of Debbie Reynolds playing the unsinkable Molly Brown. She does not try to impersonate Eppie Lederer, but plays a warm-hearted lady who truly cares about her fans' problems. It is a highly entertaining performance.

Kelly Tighe has designed a detailed luxurious traditional living room set for the production. Lighting by John Earls is bright and cheery, and Kerri Shawn wears some very fashionable outfits designed by Michael A. Berg. Scott Denison's direction is smooth and fast paced.

The Lady With All the Answers has been extended through May 22nd at Knight 3 Theatre, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr. Walnut Creek.