Erma Bombeck's "At Wit's End" is an affectionate tribute to the late American humorist currently showing at the Wetumpka Depot. -- In his directing debut, Jeff Langham heads the team behind Alison and Margaret Engel's one-woman show.
Kristy Meanor inhabits the role in an extended monologue that traces the ups and downs of suburban home life that inspired Bombeck and triggered her career as an unlikely journalist -- a career that started small yet mushroomed to a syndicated column in some 900 newspapers, the writing of 15 best selling books, a successful lecture circuit, a stint on ABC's "Good Morning America", and a passionate support of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The audience at this brief sold-out run responded enthusiastically to the many quotes from Bombeck's writing that pepper the narrative, and admitted in the post-show talk back that clippings from her newspaper columns often found a place on their refrigerators as reminders of the homespun advice that endeared her to so many for so long.
The set [modified from the Depot's recent production of Southern Fried Funeral] shows the living room, kitchen, and bedroom of Bombeck's home, the place where she did most of her writing on a typewriter atop an ironing board. -- The quirky lighting design often left Ms. Meanor in semi-darkness or shadow that, while intended to focus attention on her, got in the way of clear communication.
Any one-person show is an acting challenge, and Ms. Meanor's veteran instincts kept her portrayal of Ms. Bombeck's cheerful self-effacing attitude at the fore, spinning a positive note even onto such serious issues as cancer, dementia, and the failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
The script cleverly interjects Bombeck's epigrams into the narrative, and Ms.Meanor delivers them with expert comic timing and knowing glances that make the audience complicit in her analyses. We are instantly on her side, largely because she says things we would like to have said about our own experiences: how to deal with children ["The favorite child is the one who needs you the most"]; the myth of the perfect suburban housewife ["I never met a woman who would give up lunch for sex"]; the importance of the ERA ["I wrote for me and the rest of the Moms who need recognition"].
The one-hour running time is just right. Though we could listen to Ms. Meanor for a longer time, "always leave an audience wanting more" is a sure-fire way to ensure a hit, and Erma Bombeck's "At Wit's End" does just that.