Now Playing Through August 14. Click here for schedule and reservation information.
A Great Summer Getaway Right Here at Home
A Review by Emilie Hoppe
Meg Merckens as Erma Bombeck
While the glossy magazines were touting the perfect housewife in her pearls and Donna Reed “house dresses,” Erma Bombeck’s newspaper column told the truth. The truth about raising kids, the truth about marriage, the hysterical, silly, just plain whacky truth about life in America where husbands bring home the bacon and housewives cook it up in the pan.
“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” a new play by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel makes its Midwestern debut at the Iowa Theatre Artists Co. with Meg Merckens as Erma Bombeck in a one woman tour de force that is laugh out loud funny and all too true.
Bombeck, a Dayton, Ohio, housewife with three kids, became America’s favorite syndicated columnist offering three columns a week about life in the trenches of the American home. We meet Bombeck, at home, getting her kids ready for school. She talks about her life, her career and what it was like to be on the frontlines of the “sexual revolution” during the 1970’s when the ERA battle was taken to the streets – yours’ and mine.
This is a very, very funny play, and a smart one too, prompting me to ask myself — “Have women really made much progress since the 1960’s?” Merckens is perfect as Bombeck whose wry wit deftly, yet lovingly, skewers suburban life where that glossy magazine image of a “housewife” (what woman is married to her house?) gaily vacuuming in her high heels is at odds with a reality that includes burnt Chef Boyardee and toilet bowl funerals for the pet goldfish. We’ve come a long way baby…. or have we?
Lest you think this show is for “ladies only” the guys in the audience appeared to love it as much as we women did. During the “talk back” after the show one gentleman remarked, “I thought this would be funny, but I was unprepared to be moved when she talked about how much she missed being a mom. . . It just made me think how much I missed being a dad now that my kids are grown. This show is about life transitions really.”
Directed by Tom Johnson, whose nifty 1960 circa ranch house set reminded me, once again, that Johnson is perhaps the best set designer in the state, bar none, Johnson revealed that because the play is really new, they rehearsed the first version only to receive a new version from the playwrights just days before the opening. “I’m proud of Meg, how she pulls this off,” he said. Indeed she does. It’s never easy to play an icon, but to become one that folks have taken to their hearts is difficult indeed and Merckens does it beautifully. This is one of her very best performances and that’s saying a great deal.
Make a beeline to see “Erma Bombeck: At Wits End” at the ITAC Center in downtown Amana through August 14. Call 319-622-3222 for reservations.