By Medha Marsten, Artistic Development Fellow
Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End is Arena Stage's second entry into the Women's Voices Theater Festival. This one-woman show gives us the opportunity to spend some time with a women who was a presence in households across America during the 1960s and 70s. Whether it was in newspaper clippings on refrigerators or in best-selling novels on the shelf, she was there. Director David Esbjornson gives us some insight into his approach to making Erma's story accessible today.
What attracted you to this project?
Erma Bombeck was a regular member of my household in the seventies. She was a constant source of enjoyment for my mother and, by extension, our entire family. I was delighted to have the opportunity to help create this presentation and get to know and understand her more intimately.
You worked with Allison Engel and Margaret Engel – as well as Barbara Chisholm – on Red Hot Patriot. How would you describe your collaborative process?
Pure hell! No just kidding.
I guess I would have to say it is total collaboration. As I stage, I also work on the writing with the Engels and we collectively make decisions about the content and production. If something needs attention we may change the production choices, the writing, or both. It’s in constant evolution. And as always, I get to experience Peggy and Allison's intelligence, generosity and support.
What is your favorite Erma story?
Her stories about children. Erma's observations are so insightful and funny. She truly does speak "fluent child." I have a 12-year-old and I can relate to many of her sentiments.
What does the phrase “At Wit’s End” mean to you?
Well of course it’s meant to be a double entendre about humor and domestic insanity. But, it also indicates the complexity of the life of a stay-at-home mother. Erma wrote about what society took for granted — "women in the home." She gave insight and context to a subject that had often been considered unimportant or ignored.
If Erma were writing today, what do you think she would be writing about?
I suspect Erma would be writing about the same subjects but perhaps with a broader aim. She probably would have advanced her ideas into the larger political arena. For example, she would be mortified that there is still no legal definition of equality in the form of an Equal Rights Amendment and would most likely be fierce opposition to those leading the current "war on women."