BWW Review: Arizona Theatre Company Presents ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT'S END ~ Laughing-Out Loud Words of Wit and Wisdom
The play, written by twins Margaret Engel and Allison Engel and directed by Casey Stangl, is an hour-filled bouquet of the bon mots and wisdom of the syndicated journalist who was, for all intents and purposes, the American housewife's iconic advocate.
ATC's endeavor to heighten the theatrical experience is reflected in a display of Bombeck-ania (her typewriter, desk, reproductions of articles) in the lobby of Phoenix's Herberger Theater Center.
Among the memorabilia, I eyed a copy of the October 1st 1971 issue of Life Magazine (50¢ a copy!), highlighting the headline, Socrates of the Ironing Board. Curious, I searched it out. The article by Betty Dunn reveals the secret of "Erma's walloping appeal" ~ "that she is (a) relentlessly, studiously average and (b) very funny...something entirely new in the field of American humor...Neither hayseed nor urban, never "in," not a black humorist, not droll or sophisticated - at her un-self-conscious best...the voice of the hearty school chum who'd let you take a spin on her bike anytime."
It is this set of attributes ~ authenticity, candor, and humility, seasoned with an eye for the little things that are the big essential things in home life, that Ms. Paulsen vividly captures.
As she inhabits the replica of a 1960's furnished split level ranch house (Jo Winiarski's set is spot on with furnishings and fixtures that recall the time and tastes of suburbia ~ highlighted by Jaymi Lee Smith's lush lighting effects), she moves among the hallowed spaces that define her life, recalling the eye-opening moments that propelled her to writing as a champion of the housewife and then to her epiphany, thanks to a Bella Abzug talk, about the imperative of women's liberation.
For the sixty minutes that we've been invited into Bombeck's home, we are Paulsen's special guests. She carries us back to a time that was at the cusp of a transformation regarding the role of women. She elates us with the wise cracks of the all-knowing mom. She moves us with her reflections on past sorrows. She effortlessly engages us as she's blazing a trail from the laundry room to the sink.
There is poignancy in this play as we leave the theatre, acknowledging the work that yet needs to be done to recognize the worth of the housewife, which Bombeck so vigorously honored, while appreciating the expanded role that women must play in the good society. So much so that I recommend this as a must-see.
ERMA BOMBECK: AT WIT's END runs through December 2nd at Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.
Photo credit to Tim Fuller