Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End
Fountain Hills Theater
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Man of La Mancha and See How They Run


Cathy Dresbach
Photo by Carly Weekley
If you say the name Erma Bombeck to anyone under the age of 40 today you will probably be met with a blank stare. But for anyone who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, Erma Bombeck was a household name and the voice of reason for housewives and homemakers across the country. Bombeck, who was a wife and mother of three, found great success due to her uncanny ability to write in her syndicated columns and books what people across America were thinking. Fountain Hills Theater presents the Valley premiere of the new one woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End, which features one of Phoenix's favorite comical actresses, Cathy Dresbach, as Bombeck. While the one act play may be slight, Dresbach's wry delivery and ability to breath life into the somewhat disjointed script results in a fun romp through the past.

Sisters Allison Engel and Margaret Engel premiered the piece in 2015 and it does a fairly good job of painting the backstory to how Bombeck became a success while folding in many of her funny lines and quotable quips. But there aren't a lot of layers or much substance in the show, which barely runs over an hour. We get brief snippets of Erma's difficult childhood growing up with a single mother and we understand the love and compassion she had for her husband and children as she was trying to figure out how to best play the part of a housewife of the 1960s. Once her last child went off to school she had time on her hands to go back to the journalistic career she had when she met her husband. As Bombeck states, "Writing a column was what I could do. I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security, and too tired for an affair."

There are brief interludes to document how Bombeck joined up with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, but even those heavier political points aren't given much time. The 1960s and 1970s were a tumultuous time in America, especially for women trying to enter the work force, but very little of that pain and suffering is shown here. What's also missing is any drama or a more in-depth account of the trials and tribulations she went through to become as successful as she did. Perhaps Bombeck's idea to write a column about what really happens inside a typical housewife's home was as easy to sell and syndicate as the play suggests, but that doesn't add much intrigue or insight into a one person show.

Director Ben Tyler and Dresbach do a good job bringing a liveliness to this slightly static show. Dresbach doesn't attempt any accent or caricature of Bombeck but instead lets her warmth and natural grace on stage create a richness in this woman who not only was a highly respected author and humorist but also incredibly funny. Dresbach is a gifted comic and knows how to deliver some of Bombeck's most famous lines to get laughs.

Peter J. Hill's set design evokes a typical suburban home during the period when Bombeck was writing. Tyler and Ross Collins' projections provide plenty of fun throwback commercials and images to help paint a good picture of what Americans at that time were exposed to both on TV and in print.

While Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End may not provide the same type of humorous and slightly provocative insight that Bombeck had the ability to get across in her numerous books and newspaper columns, it does an adequate job of interweaving Bombeck's history into the plight of the American 20th century housewife.

Fountain Hills Theater's production of Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End runs through January 28th, 2018, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills AZ. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.

Director: Bey Tyler
Set Design: Peter J. Hill
Light Design: Ross Collins
Costumer: Noel Irick
Stage Manager: Kendra Lytle
Projection Design: Ross Collins and Ben Tyler
Properties: Anne Kelleher & Kendra Lytle

Cast:
Erma Bombeck: Cathy Dresbach


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