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Rediscover the nation's pen pal

The woman known publicly as Ann Landers reckons with her personal and professional life in "The Lady with All the Answers."

Shanan Custer in "The Lady with All the Answers," streaming live from Lakeshore Players Theatre through March 28. Photo by Molly Weibel, 1000 Words Photography - MN.

Through an act of serendipity in 1955, Eppie Lederer became Ann Landers, advice columnist first for the Chicago Sun-Times and then the Chicago Tribune. More than that, she became a national personality, receiving the title of the most influential woman in the United States in a 1978 World Almanac survey. However, when the stage lights go on during Lakeshore Players Theatre's "The Lady with All the Answers," we see her at a low point in her life. Not because of her career, but because of personal heartbreak that she feels compelled to disclose to her readers.

The one-actor play streams live through March 28, and for 90-minutes, playwright David Rambo asks a marathon task out of whomever plays Eppie. Shanan Custer (regularly seen with "The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society") largely succeeds with the help of director Sandra Struthers, and together, they make a flagging script into a piece that reflects America's heart in the mid to late 1900s.

As Ann Landers, Eppie tackled light-hearted topics like which way toilet paper ought to be put on its holder, but she also spoke to her readers about alcoholism, homosexuality, anxiety, their deepest secrets, their silliest pet peeves… She was a last resort for some and, for others, a swift kick in the butt or the deciding vote. Just as importantly, Eppie learned from her readers and the humanity that flooded her mailbox every day.

Rambo's script portrays Eppie as a bit of a saint, and Custer manages to keep the biopic on the right side of believable. The best parts are when Custer is able to fully immerse herself and the audience in a story, not just a sampling of letters. She scrapes back Eppie's Midwestern mom persona and the frenetic procrastinating, and she shows us the sincerity of her professional mission, her tenderness during her visit to Vietnam, and the years-forged love she still had for her husband.

The real Eppie died in 2002, and for almost two decades, she took the Ann Landers name with her. Eventually, her daughter began a website featuring archived columns and new advice, but it's a pale shadow to the woman whose words 90 million people read from around the world. While the United States may not be as captivated with a sole confidante ever again, Eppie's unspoken lessons carry on: Be a friend, keep growing, and don't be too proud to consider some frank advice.

1 Comment

Mar 20, 2021

How wonderful to bring Ann Landers back to life!!

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