“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – November 18, 2018


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

If you followed Erma Bombeck and her newspaper and book writings, you will admire Arizona Theatre Company’s affectionate one-woman tribute “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.”  Jeanne Paulsen is adept at becoming Bombeck as she moves non-stop on a stylized set that doesn’t depict any specific house that the writer shared with husband Bill and three children first in Ohio and later in Paradise Valley.  The family moved to Arizona in 1971 and she lived there until her 1996 death.  The fascinating set shows what it was like during Bombeck’s writing heyday.  Before the show begins you revel in an oddly colored refrigerator, a myriad of dangling lights, and the infamous Formica counter tops.  The set includes several rooms in Bombeck’s house including a living room, one bedroom, the kitchen/dining room, a hallway, and the front door.

For those who followed Bombeck’s sly witticisms about family life, they blaze out in this insightful look at what it was like to inhabit this period.  But in the years since Bombeck died, much of her banter sounds clichéd as society has moved to a more jaundiced view of these adventures.

At the performance attended, the older audience relished Bombeck’s return but the younger theatergoers and those never enamored of Bombeck’s seemed less enthusiastic and glad the play only lasted an hour.  For the latter group, the play is more than enough of a woman who never ventured very far from her rarely changed and very established beliefs.

Those never an avid Bombeck fan, will begin to guess each witty retort before it is uttered.  Again, nothing but praise for Paulsen’s right-on Bombeck interpretation and the fascinating set that brought back the period perfectly.  Another plus is Glenn Bruner’s lengthy pre-curtain spiel about Bombeck’s life that brought back memories of who she was and what she wrote about.

“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” invites you back to relive Bombeck’s charming witticisms and her now quaint life views.  The set and Paulsen’s fine performance are artful representations but if Bombeck wasn’t your thing, leave the tickets for those who adored her.  “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End” continues at the Herberger Theater Center through December 2.  For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: B