ABET presented a three-performance run, beginning January 30, 2015, of the biographical one-woman play about Ann Landers, world famous advice columnist. Celia Frank, Executive Director of ABET, called upon Fernandina Beach actress Sinda Nichols to bring this work to the stage for its Jacksonville debut after the production that was originally scheduled during this time period had to be cancelled.
Ms. Nichols motto should be “has play, will travel.” She has previously performed “The Belle of Amherst,” the story of Emily Dickinson, at ABET as well as throughout the United States and Ireland. She took a break from her solo shows in July, 2014 when she appeared in the 5 & Dime’s production of “33 Variations” in an outstanding leading role.
The male contingent of Dual Critics was a bit hesitant about seeing this play, about a woman whose real name was Esther “Eppie” Lederer, who began writing as “Ann Landers” in 1955 after assuming the name of the recently deceased journalist who originated the column; she continued for 47 years. Could a play built around her life really be of interest to men? Well, she reportedly had 60 million readers, and both men and women wrote to her asking for help with their many problems. And indeed , at least half the audience members at ABET were men, who laughed loud and long at the many humorous moments portrayed, and left the theatre with high praise for the show.
The setting was her living room at home, where she opened the hundreds of letters she received, and chose the ones to use in her daily columns. The play takes place during the course of a very long night in June, 1975, as she struggles with a letter she is composing that is addressed to her readers. Her marriage to Jules, her husband for over thirty years, has failed, and at his insistence, they will be divorcing. Sharing this information with her followers is particularly difficult for her, as she has always discouraged divorce, viewing it as a last resort.
She frequently read from letters she received, and discussed her thoughts and responses to a vast range of topics, including health, homosexuality, suicide, and of course, relationships and sex. She also asked the audience to participate in occasional topical surveys.
In one very amusing letter, Landers tackles the “issue of tissue,” when she was asked how toilet paper should be hung, and why. Her column addressing the matter drew thousands of replies and suggestions. And audience members had a few comments as well.
Effie had quite a lot to say about her identical twin sister, Popo, who copied her and started her own advice column under the name “Dear Abby.”
Ms. Nichols’ performance was vivid and believable and exuded warmth and common sense. She made audience members feel as thought we were actually sitting in her living room as she directed questions to us, waited for answers, and skillfully avoided truly embarrassing or revealing questions. The performance was well paced, and Sinda smartly let moments linger so we could let its humor or significance sink in. In Act One, she wore a Chanel inspired jacket and skirt, while in Act Two she donned a bright blue dressing gown. She used a wig to achieve the famous Landers helmet hairdo.
ABET’s small stage was perfect for the setting, with a couch and telephone table to the right and her writing table to the left. The rear wall shelves held interesting figurines and collectibles.
The play written by David Rambo was well researched and included interesting statistics about her work and life. He has the character express her pride in assisting others from all walks of life, remarking toward the end “I would rather have my columns posted on a thousand refrigerator doors than win the Pulitzer Prize.”
We hope there will be future opportunities for Jacksonville residents to see this play here or in a nearby venue. This interesting slice of history would be an appealing fund raiser for a number of groups, including social clubs, schools, and libraries.
Thank you ABET and Ms. Nichols, for a delightful evening of theatre. For information about scheduling this play visit www.sindanichols.com.
ABET’s next presentation will feature St. Augustine actor/playwright Lee Weaver during February 6 – 8 in his solo drama, “The Secret,” a story about the Spanish Inquisition in the New World.. This play had a successful run in the 2014 New York Fringe Festival. For reservations and information, visit abettheatre.com or call (904) 249-7177. ABET is at 716 Ocean Boulevard, Atlantic Beach, Florida.