Jessica Wortham. Photo: Actors Theatre
Erma Bombeck: At Wits End
By Margaret Engel and Allison Engel
Directed by Robert Barry Fleming
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
“You don’t mind if I do two things at once?” And without receiving an answer, this irrepressible force is folding laundry, making lunches, smashing the patriarchy, and crafting clever, hilarious works of literature. Erma Bombeck: At Wits End feels at home in the virtual format with Actors Theater of Louisville. With elements of autobiography and satire, this one-woman show is pure comedic gold.
Perhaps it’s coincidental that both virtual productions I’ve seen at Actors Theater this season revolve around an at-home setting. While Where Did We Sit on the Bus? transitioned from home to various performance spaces and classrooms, this show relies on the any-town USA suburban house as a setting, having filmed in an actual family domicile. Providing intimate details of Erma Bombeck’s life while breaking the fourth wall, this production is a neat transfer to new media. Actors Theater exploits the virtual format by showing stills of Bombeck’s political involvement with the Equal Rights Amendment, her novels, and syndicated newspaper column.
The format also naturally lends itself to Bombeck’s direct delivery to the audience. Several scenes were adjusted as documentary-style interview bits inside the Pamela Brown Theater, including an introduction at the top of the show. The intention for this choice might have been to tie the action together to the local theatre space that might have hosted it. When you consider the direct delivery and special visual talents that went into this production, the use of the venue, while logical, also felt nearly unwarranted.
From start to finish, Jessica Wortham is abuzz as Erma, the main character and narrator of her own story. Her one-liners and puns fly as she tends to the needs of her home and family. Constantly juggling Bombeck’s wordplay and putting out familial fires before they happen, Wortham steadily sinks her teeth into the material and relishes in Bombeck’s comedic style. Here is a woman who loves her family, never forfeits her status as a helpless housewife and yet her eye rolls and quips about the natural absurdities of everyday suburban life are flawlessly timed.
If you have a chance to see this one, I highly recommend it. The jokes are quick and the message and lessons are important. And as Erma so eloquently puts it, “housewives have important things to say.”
Erma Bombeck: At Wits End
Streaming through January 28, 2021
Actors Theatre of Louisville
Actorstheatre.org/Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!