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21 November 2008

THEATER REVIEW - "The Lady with All the Answers"

A decade ago, everyone knew who Ann Landers was, but today, I'm not so sure everyone would know who "The Lady with all the Answers" was. David Rambo's 2005 one-woman show, which premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, is now at the Pasadena Playhouse.

At two hours, the show runs a bit long for a one-person production, particularly when there is no dramatic action and the action doesn't span a long time period. Gary Wissmann's set gives us a well-appointed apartment, beautifully furnished and stylish but not flashy. As dressed by Holly Poe Durbin, Mimi Kennedy's Ann Landers, known in real life as Esther "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer, is well-turned out--not a trendsetter, not sexy, but someone that anyone would feel comfortable with.

Set in June 1975 in the study of a fourteen-room high-rise apartment on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, this lady has to write a column, one that must be typed out on a real typewriter and not a word processor. She must meet a certain number of column inches and she must count the words instead of expecting her software to do it for her.

During the night, she gets a call from her identical twin sister and rival Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips, the woman who wrote Dear Abby (from 1956-1995 and now written by her daughter Jeanne Phillips), as well as her daughter, Margo Howard, who would eventually write the advice columns Dear Prudence (1998-2006) and Dear Margo (2006 to the present).

Rambo's script, written with the cooperation of Howard, is warm and funny and finds this lady pondering over how to make an announcement that would seem to contradict a column she had written several years earlier. She had ventured to make a glowing commentary on her marriage, but now must reveal to her readers that her husband was divorcing her to be with a younger woman--one younger than their only child. Rambo's script doesn't dig particularly deep. We don't feel her despair, grief or remorse. Kennedy's Ann Landers doesn't get angry of display inner angst.

The bath she supposedly takes when the audience is at intermission resolves her writer's block and she will carry on. Rambo's script doesn't give us any answers about this lady who doled out answers to millions of readers daily. Under the direction of Brendon Fox, the pace seems a bit leisurely--not like a frantic reporter or columnist on deadline. There are no chips in the polish of a woman who's hair was, most likely with the help of substantial amounts of hair spray, perfectly in place--even, as she admits in the play, in the muggy heat in Vietnam when she visited soldiers and comforted the wounded.

Ann Landers did have some good advice to give and verbally whipped herself with a wet noodle when she admittedly gave out some questionable guidance. Rambo's play gives us the lady as she presented herself to the world and Kennedy fills the role with grace and the kind of warmth one expects from a favorite aunt. This production is entertaining without being enlightening.

"The Lady with all the Answers" continues until Nov. 23 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 p.m.; Sundays 2 and 7 p.m. Dark Nov. 5 and 12 evenings with special matinee performances instead. $25-$65. For more info, call (626) 356-PLAY or go to www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

02 November 2008

Movie Review: The Universe of Keith Haring

Director Christina Clausen's 90-minute 2008 documentary, The Universe of Keith Haring is a work filled with love but not enough objectivity. There are things we didn't really need to know to understand who and what Haring was. There are things we might want to know, but aren't really given enough information.

Haring's not as famous as some of the people he rubbed shoulders with, most notably Madonna, or Andy Warhol, but despite his brief life, he left a legacy worldwide. You've probably seen some of his colorful cartoons--in posters and murals. Like Warhol's silkscreens, Haring's work has become a style, an imitation of an imitation--from graffiti to art.

While his work has a certain exuberant and simplistic quality, his lifestyle seemed to similarly have had a short-sighted hedonism. The NY art scene is portrayed as one of non-committal sexual couplings, one that celebrated life with the sheer callow joy of a dog. Before his 1990 death at age 31 from complications of AIDS, he was part of a group that included Jean-Michel Basquiat and part of a scene that included sex, drugs, performance art and pop music.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Haring studied graphic design at The Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, but he is best known for being a part of the New York street scene. In New York, he studied at the School of Visual Arts and was inspired by graffiti. His chalk drawings in the subways of New York City drew attention in the 1980s.

Madonna became a friend and his art was used during her Sticky and Sweet tour when she sang "Into the Groove." In the movie, a clip of Madonna performing at his birthday party. Other archival footage includes Grace Jones (if you remember her), Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, Haring, Yoko Ono, Warhol, Kenny Scharf and Junior Vasquez.

Haring was openly gay and he was also a social activist. Yet this movie does not take a critical approach of either the NY art or gay scene or even of his work. Instead, we have a collection of interviews of family and members of the Keith Haring Foundation.

Certainly we don't want to know only the highs (his association with Madonna) but do we really need to know some of the lows or just mundane? Do we need to know about his small-town life? Perhaps what we really need to know is how his art, popular during his lifetime, making him one of the few art-stars and the anti-thesis of the starving artist, is now viewed historically. Then we could decide what are the important points of this documentary and we could answer the question: Why is this documentary being made and why is this person more important than any other?

Haring's universe touched many people internationally, but we need to know how the world he no longer lives in evaluates the signs he left behind in ours.