BWW Review: ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT'S END at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE- As Funny as You Remember
For those of a certain age, growing up included reading or hearing the voices of columnists and commentators like Paul Harvey, Dear Abby, Howard Cosell, and Erma Bombeck . In fact Erma and Abby had columns that often ran side by side. Dear Abby gave advice and Erma commented on the every day life of American housewives. While all of these names will be lost on millennials, everyone over 45 years old will have some memory of these folks. A production of the one act play "ERMA BOMBECK: AT Wit's End" is playing at Shea's 710 Theatre through November 10th after it's successful run at Rochester's Geva Theatre, and includes the same cast. That is, a cast of one.
Nationally syndicated columnist, attorney, and actor Pam Sherman reprises her role as Erma. And let's just say she serves Erma's Bombeck's legacy well. With her calm and mellifluous voice, Sherman is as comfortable in fashionable heels as she is in her slippers, enacting and commenting on the story of Bombeck's life in suburbia, aka, Dayton, Ohio from 1962-1996. Written by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel, the one hour comedy retells Erma's adult life, marriage and motherhood and how she happened to write a newspaper column once a week for $2. While the script is informative, it really plays out as a string of Bombeck's own columns-- stating the facts, commenting upon them, getting a laugh and then moving on. There are no cliff hanging plot twists or extreme highs or lows.. even Bombeck's bout with breast cancer is met with a matter of fact resilience and a hint of comedy. So this very pleasant hour allows the audience to get to know an old friend a little better, like sitting in Bombeck's own home over a cup of coffee. Luckily the play is short and concise, as much more would start to feel like a Hallmark TV movie.
Ms. Sherman is utterly endearing as she irons, vacuums and writes her column. She looks like she is totally at home on the simple set of her home's interior. She brings a believability to the woman who had opinions on everything from housekeeping to raising children and coping with illness. But in the 60's women were beginning to break the mold of perfect housewives like June Cleaver on "Leave it to Beaver" and Harriet Nelson in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." Buffalo's own Betty Friedan was writing "The Feminine Mystique," women were burning their bras, and attempts to get The Equal Rights Amendment grew stronger. Bombeck herself was assigned to an ERA task force by President Jimmy Carter that included Gloria Steinem.
American women looked to Bombeck for reassurance and validation. She empowered many to strive to be the best possible person, but never without a dose of reality, that always included her famous humor. Who else but Bombeck could have penned books with the titles, "The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank," or "If life Is a Bowl Of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits." But Bombeck admits that along side her many fan letters, she had her detractors who would write how much they disagreed with her opinions or believed she was the worst mother ever.
Director Mark Cuddy gives Sherman plenty to do, but creates intimate moments to draw the audience in for more serious topics. With Ms. Sherman's self confidence, and a national treasure like Erma Bombeck, it is hard to knock the bio-play. What it lacks in dramatic substance, it makes up with plenty of heart and laughs---- yes, let's not forget those wonderful laughs and smiles that Erma was able to bring to so many for so long.
"ERMA BOMBECK:AT Wit's End" plays at Shea's 710 Theatre through November 10, 2019. Contact sheas.org for more information