What happens when an advice columnist doesn’t know what to advise?
That’s the premise of “The Lady with All the Answers,” the play about Ann Landers, who wrote the advice column “Ask Ann Landers.”
The play opens at the Springer Opera House’s Foley Hall this weekend.
Atlanta-based actress Judy Leavell who plays Landers in this one-woman show said her character is perplexed when “she just doesn’t have an answer for this one question.”
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The play is written by David Rambo, who also wrote “God’s Man in Texas,” which was performed at the Springer this season.
“Here’s Ann Landers, who has all the confidence in the world” and then faces self-doubt when she can’t think of how to answer a letter, said Paul Pierce, the Springer’s artistic director, who directs “The Lady with All the Answers.”
Leavell said Landers “doesn’t have anyone to write to” about her dilemma. The last person she’d ask is her estranged twin sister, best known as Dear Abby.
Of the two, Pierce thinks Ann Landers was known for her thoughtful, expert-advice filled columns, while Dear Abby was more flippant.
Pierce wouldn’t divulge the question that stumped Landers. He and Leavell both said “you have to come see the show.”
Leavell, last seen at the Springer in 2008’s “Enchanted April,” has done “The Lady with All the Answers” twice before in Atlanta theaters.
With Pierce, she’s discovering “a new and very different approach to play Landers,” Leavell said.
One approach is very modern.
“I think it’s fascinating that people were baring their souls to someone they’ve never met,” Pierce said. “Ann Landers was a fountain of fantastic information. Ann Landers was the Internet. She got 60 million hits a day.”
Pierce said people were writing to Landers about symptoms of diseases and young teenagers were asking basic sex-ed questions.
“Who else would you write to find out stuff that you didn’t want your parents to know you wanted to know?” Pierce asked.
“Or didn’t want to discuss with your parent,” Leavell added.
Landers, born Esther “Eppie” Pauline Friedman Lederer, began writing Ask Ann Landers in 1955 and continued until her death in 2002.
Lederer, who owned the rights to Ann Landers, put in her will that the column should die when she did.
Her daughter, Margot Howard, carried on the advice-giving tradition with her column, Dear Prudence. She also wrote a book, “Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers.”
The play is set in Landers’ home office and the audience plays the part of her readers.
In her prime, Landers received 900 letters a day and replied to every letter that had a return address.