About the author:
As if directing her first off-Broadway musical (Vanities) and collecting rave reviews in New Haven as Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (a production that’s headed off-Broadway in March 2010) weren’t enough, Judith Ivey has spent the fall giving a winning performance as advice columnist Ann Landers in David Rambo’s The Lady With All the Answers. In a solo show that closes December 6 at off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre, Ivey brings Esther Pauline “Eppie” Friedman Lederer to life at a moment when the legendary columnist is facing her biggest challenge: revealing to millions of readers that her own marriage is ending. Ivey looks nothing like Eppie in real-life, but with the help of a world-class wig and the acting skills that won her two Tony Awards, she breathes new life into one of the most famous women of the 20th century. Broadway.com asked Ivey to talk about the challenges and joys of her transformation.
Playing Ann Landers is a privilege. To tell her story night after night in The Lady With All the Answers is an honor and a constant reminder of how I could improve as Judy Ivey. Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, wasn’t perfect, but she was someone who strived to be better. Not perfect—better.
She was conscientious, generous, thoughtful, thought-provoking, devoted, a good listener and very funny. She was FUN! I recently had a lousy day. I was thrilled I got to go to the theater and become Eppie. It was such a wonderful place to be, even with the problem she wrestles with every evening.
Eppie chose the “bright side.” “The glass is always half full….” “There must be a pony in here somewhere…” That made finding her gestures, her thoughts, and her expressions downright seductive for me. To always go to the light is refreshing, because I can sometimes dwell on the negative.
Playing someone who is known to so many has the added task of authenticity. In this day and age, one can “google” Eppie Lederer and see her full of life and animated. Therefore, I feel obligated to find her speech pattern, her hand gestures, and her twinkle in the eye. My neck and left side need weekly massages because of this. Eppie spoke with one side of her mouth pulled away from the center. In order to reproduce this, I tend to tighten my left side so I need a little help in the relaxation department to get through the week.
Eppie was also a smaller woman than I am, both in height and weight. I really try to think “small” when I am preparing each night. Martin Pakledinaz, the costume designer, has helped me tremendously by making the “silhouette” of me/Eppie small and trim. When I am dressed, I see Eppie Lederer, so in my mind’s eye onstage I am five feet tall and 100 pounds! That is truly suspending my own disbelief. Hopefully, it translates to the audience.
The greatest question mark in this production for me is the audience participation. Since there is no fourth wall, and I engage the audience to respond to questions by raising their hands, then I do a hand-count, they are my acting partners. The audience is always an actor’s partner somewhat, but their role is usually “the observers.” They have responses, such as laughing and crying, but in Lady they are asked to be vocal, to interact with me, and that sets a tone in our relationship. My job, therefore, includes engaging the audience to join me, and some are more willing than others.
At every performance, I can see some people thinking, “Oh no, she’s not going to call on me, is she?” I have to engage, but insure that all is safe—they will not be made fools of. At other times, I have to make sure they don’t take over, and that I am still running the show. That tightrope is difficult to walk, and when I lose my balance, climbing back on the rope is sometimes more difficult and humbling than I would like. The “falls” can cause me to lose sight of the privilege of telling the story, or the challenge of the transformation. So I am, many times, also “cheerleading” in my head to “keep going, and they will forgive you. Don’t give up!” If I do say so myself, I usually succeed, but Eppie is still my guide and inspiration. I’m a lucky gal!