NEWS-PRESS RAVES: “ERMA BOMBECK WIT FLOWS IN FLORIDA REP PLAY!”October 20, 2016
CHARLES RUNNELLS , CRUNNELLS@NEWS-PRESS.COM 3:04 p.m. EDT October 18, 2016
Carrie Lund delivers each zinger with sizzling comedic timing. These may be Erma Bombeck’s words, but Lund makes them sing — and she makes her audience roar with laughter, too.
Florida Rep’s new comedy is loaded with one clever, hilarious line after another. Here are just a few of them:
“The only plus about exercising is I get to hear heavy breathing again.”
“Never trust a doctor whose office plants have died.”
“Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”
Lund makes it look easy, and every one of these lines lands perfectly: Not too fast — there’s a lot of wisdom to be absorbed — and with just enough of a pause that the punchline really packs a punch.
Lund is a comedy pro, of course. She’s been making Southwest Florida laugh for decades now, and she’s doing it again in her first one-woman show, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.”
In this 70-minute show, Lund plays the famous syndicated columnist/author and holds court in her Ohio home, where she makes breakfast for the kids, vacuums the floor and uses her ironing board as a desk. All while telling the audience the story of her life: From a suburban ’60s housewife to a columnist to a national celebrity to a champion of feminism.
The ArtStage Studio Theatre audience stretches along two sides of the rectangular-shaped stage, and I’d worried that half of us would feel left out at any given moment. But director Michael Marotta choreographs things beautifully, and you rarely realize that Lund is only looking at you half of the time during the show.
There is one glaring exception. Occasionally, Lund retreats to a corner to offer some deeper thoughts on her life, but that corner is set so far back that half the audience has to crane its necks to see her. It’s frustrating and annoying. And like many audience members, I eventually gave up and just sat there, listening and looking forward.
Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often in “At Wit’s End,” and everything else here is a joy to watch. I especially loved the poignant, inspiring ending with Bombeck offering a few last words of wisdom as the stage lights slowly die out — signifying both the end of the show and the end of a remarkable life. Simply beautiful.
Lund’s charming performance lights up the room throughout this one-act play. She stands there in slippers and a house dress and smiles as she delights the audience with one story after another and offers an endless supply of classic, perfectly landed Bombeck zingers about life, family and motherhood.
There are more than just laughs here, though. Written by Allison and Margaret Engel, the show goes deeper and shows how Bombeck used humor as a pressure-release valve. Being a mother and wife isn’t easy, and the play suggests that maybe she couldn’t have done it without being able to write about it, too.
“If you can’t make it better,” she says, “you’d better laugh at it. And if you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”
One small complaint: Lund’s acting occasionally gets hampered by hiccup-like pauses, as if she’s struggling to remember her lines (and to be fair, there are a LOT of lines). But I suspect that’s smoothed out after a few more performances.
Florida Rep’s “At Wit’s End” is only the second production of the show to appear in the southeastern United States, according to producing artistic director Bob Cacioppo. But I certainly hope it’s not the last.
This show — full of life, vitality and effortless wit — deserves to be seen. Even if you don’t know a word of Bombeck, her wit remains timeless.
And speaking of wit, here’s one more zinger from the master, talking about living life to the fullest: “Think of all the women on the Titanic who waved away the dessert cart!”
Words to live by.