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Erma Bombeck: At Wit's End

Event Calendar
By Allison Engel and Margaret Engel
Directed by David Esbjornson
October 9 – November 8, 2015
Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle

From the writers of the smash hit Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins comes a look at one of our country’s most beloved voices, who captured the frustrations of her generation by asking, “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” Discover the story behind the award-winning humorist who championed women’s lives with wit that sprang from the most unexpected place of all — the truth. Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.

Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End is generously sponsored by George and Duffy Ftikas.


BARBARA CHISHOLM (Erma Bombeck) is an Austin, Texas-based actor making her Arena Stage debut with this production, her second collaboration with David Esbjornson, who directed her as Molly Ivins in the Austin production of Red Hot Patriot. Regional credits include Constance in Fixing King John with the internationally renowned Rude Mechs; Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger in 33 Variations with eminent pianist Anton Nel; Elena in the world premiere of Steven Dietz’s Shooting Star; Annie Wilkes in the North American premiere of Stephen King’s Misery; and multiple roles in Anne Bogart’s staging of The Women at San Diego Rep. Film/TV roles include the Oscar-nominated Boyhood, Emmy-nominated ABC drama American Crime and Friday Night Lights. She's been voted Best Actor in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of Austin Readers Poll three times and received multiple acting honors from the Austin Critics Table and B. Iden Payne Theatre Awards.


Allison EngelALLISON ENGEL (Playwright) has been a reporter for the Des Moines Tribune, San Jose Mercury and Pacific News Service, and was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. She and her twin Margaret wrote the play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. She also has been a speechwriter and aide for former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and lieutenant governor Sally Pederson. In Iowa, she was active in the Des Moines Playhouse, serving as president and head of play selection. She recently spent five years as director of communications at the University of Southern California before becoming the associate director of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at the university. She received an MA in screenwriting from USC in 2009. She is married to Scott Kirkpatrick, and they have two children, Miles and Nora. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Margaret EngelMARGARET ENGEL (Playwright) directs the Alicia Patterson Journalism Foundation and was the managing editor of the Newseum. She and her twin Allison wrote Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. She was a reporter for The Washington Post, Des Moines Register and Lorain Journal and was a Nieman fellow at Harvard. She and Allison wrote Food Finds: America’s Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them and helped turn the book into a show for Food Network, where it ran for seven years. She serves on the board of Theatre Washington/Helen Hayes Awards, The Nieman Foundation and chairs the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards board. She and her husband, Bruce Adams, wrote three editions of a travel guide to America’s baseball parks with the help of their children, Emily and Hugh. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

DAVID ESBJORNSON (Director) returns to Arena Stage after directing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. He also directed productions of Red Hot Patriot at Philadelphia Theatre Company and Geffen Playhouse. Premieres include Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (Broadway); The Play About the Baby (Century); The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (Broadway); Resurrection Blues (Guthrie); Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and the first staged presentation of Perestroika (Eureka); Homebody/Kabul (London); Therese Raquin (CSC); In the Blood (Public); Tuesdays with Morrie (Minetta Lane); My Old Lady (Promenade); Memory House (Playwrights); Purgatorio; How? How? Why? Why? Why? (SRT) and Abigail/1702 (NYSF). Recent work includes Lady from Dubuque (SRT), Measure for Measure (NYSF Delacorte) and Gabriel and Trumpery (Atlantic). Revivals include Driving Miss Daisy (Broadway and West End); Death of a Salesman (Gate-Dublin); Hamlet (TFNY); A Few Good Men (West End); All My Sons (Huntington); Much Ado About Nothing (NYSF); The Normal Heart (Public); Mud and Drowning (Signature); The Entertainer, The Maids, Endgame and Entertaining Mr. Sloane (CSC); Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Summer and Smoke (Guthrie); and Farmyard (NYTW). David has served as Artistic Director of NYC Classic Stage Company and Seattle Repertory Theatre and is the current Chair of Theatre at Rutger’s University.

ANITA MAYNARD-LOSH (Associate Director) is in her 12th season at Arena Stage. She directed the world premiere of last season’s Our War and served as associate director on several productions at Arena Stage. Anita trained and taught at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, was on the faculty at Webster University in St. Louis, headed the theater department at the University of Alaska Southeast and was the associate artistic director of Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska. The Alaska native-inspired production of Macbeth that Anita conceived and directed was performed in English and Tlingit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Through Arena Stage’s devised theater program, Voices of Now, Anita has collaborated on creating and directing original plays with communities in India and Croatia.

DANIEL CONWAY (Set Designer) returns to Arena Stage after designing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in the Fichandler Stage and Love in Afghanistan in the Kogod Cradle. Recent projects include Penn & Teller on Broadway and The Tempest for American Repertory Theater (Boston Critics Award nomination), South Coast Repertory (Los Angeles Critics Award nomination) and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Other D.C. credits include Soon for Signature Theatre, The Merry Wives of Windsor for Shakespeare Theatre Company, Tribes for Everyman Theatre and Water by the Spoonful for Studio Theatre, where he has designed more than 25 productions. He is the recipient of three Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Set Design.

ROB DENTON (Lighting Designer) is thrilled to be lighting his first show at Arena Stage. He has had the joy of designing for many years in D.C. with past local design credits including Simply Sondheim (Signature Theatre), Mary Stuart (Folger Theatre) and Rumpelstiltskin (Imagination Stage). Recent regional design credits include Because of Winn-Dixie (Delaware Theatre Company); Hairspray, Holiday Inn, Into the Woods, Porgy & Bess and Seussical (The Muny); The Winslow Boy and All The Way (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis); Hansel & Gretel and The Mikado (Memphis Opera); and Madame Butterfly (Minnesota Opera). Some of Rob’s upcoming designs include Die Fledermaus (New Orleans Opera); Jack and Phil, Giant-Slayers, Inc. (Imagination Stage); The Little Mermaid (Arkansas Repertory Theatre); and The Explorers Club (Delaware Theatre Company).

ELIZABETH HOPE CLANCY (Costume Designer) designed Kathleen Turner's costume for Red Hot Patriot at Arena. Broadway credits include A Christmas Story, Passing Strange, Bobbi Boland, The Goat and The Ride Down Mt. Morgan. Some favorite projects include Measure for Measure (NYSF), Death of a Salesman (Dublin's Gate Theater), A Few Good Men (West End), The Lady from Dubuque (Signature), Hamlet (TFANA), Ros Indexical (choreographer Yvonne Rainer), Lucas Foss' Griffelkin (MSM), Richard III (Intiman), Waiting for Godot (CSC), Finer Noble Gases (Rattlestick), The Cook (Intar, Seattle Rep) and Tony Kushner's A Dybbuk (Public). Elizabeth has designed costumes for choreographer Sally Silvers since 1997. She teaches fashion history at Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts. Raised coming to Arena with her parents, longtime ushers Paul and Barbara, it is always particularly sweet to return here.

ROB MILBURN & MICHAEL BODEEN (Sound Designers)’s Broadway credits include music composition and sound for No Man’s Land, Waiting for Godot, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Miracle Worker, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Speed of Darkness; music for My Thing of Love; and sound for Larry David’ Fish in the Dark, This Is Our Youth, Of Mice and Men, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Superior Donuts, reasons to be pretty, A Year with Frog and Toad, King Hedley II, Buried Child, The Song of Jacob Zulu and The Grapes of Wrath. They have also created music and sound Off-Broadway, at many of America’s resident theaters (often with Steppenwolf Theatre) and at several international venues. Please visit

MARNE ANDERSON (Stage Manager) is excited to be a part of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End and the Women’s Voice Theater Festival. This is her first show in the Kogod Cradle. Other Arena Stage highlights include King Hedley II, Five Guys Named Moe, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Mountaintop, Metamorphoses, The Arabian Nights and Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies. Other D.C. highlights include Folger Theatre (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) and Woolly Mammoth (You for Me for You; Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play). Regional credits include Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival (The Will Rogers Follies, Damn Yankees). She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association. She is thankful to her family for all their love and support.

RACHAEL ALBERT (Assistant Stage Manager) is delighted to be making her Arena Stage debut. Her credits include Up Here, Ether Dome and Peer Gynt at La Jolla Playhouse; Snakeskin with Malashock Dance & SACRA/PROFANA; Rich Girl at Old Globe; and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Stage 773. For Ubuntu Theater Project, her credits include Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, Grounded, Waiting for Lefty, Marguerite to Maya Angelou, Dance of the Holy Ghost, Fool for Love, Here Lies Henry, Dutchman and Yellowman. She received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego and BFA from the University of Michigan. Proud AEA member.

JOCELYN CLARKE (Dramaturg) is the dramaturg for the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage. He has taught dramaturgy at the Kennedy Center, Columbia University and Trinity College Dublin. He was the commissioning and literary manager of the Abbey Theatre for four years and lead theatre critic with Sunday Tribune for nine years. He is an associate artist with The Civilians and Theater Mitu in New York. He has written six plays for Anne Bogart and the SITI Company—Bob, Alice’s Adventures Underground, Room, Score, Antigone and Trojan Women (After Euripides). The first part of his new collaboration Hamlet/Ur-Hamlet with Theater Mitu premiered in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and Trial By Fire, his libretto for the new electronic opera by Roger Doyle about the philosopher Giordano Bruno, will premiere in Dublin in early 2016.

Photo Gallery


Subverting Expectations: Women’s Work in Theater
Sunday, October 11, 2015
3:15 pm (Immediately after the matinee performance)
Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle
FREE but ticket required
Please join us for a reception following this event

What is feminist theater — is it simply a play written by a woman or is there more to it? How are plays by women different? Would you know a play was written by a woman by the writing alone? From comedy to drama to musicals; in solo shows, ensemble pieces or epic sagas, women playwrights are not only breaking the fourth wall, they’re breaking the glass ceiling. As Arena Stage highlights two daring plays by women — Destiny of Desire and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End — join playwrights Allison Engel, Margaret Engel and Karen Zacarías to discuss how women are seen and received in theater by audiences and artists, how they’re subverting those expectations and what’s next. Now that women have the world’s attention, what will we do with it?

Make it a day! Join us for the matinee of Erma Bombeck, followed by the discussion. Then stay for dinner at our Café and the 6:00 pm performance of Destiny of Desire.

Remembering Erma: Memories from Friends and Family
Friday, October 16, 2015
9:30 pm (Immediately after the evening performance)
Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle

For much of America, writer Erma Bombeck was like a part of the family. But for a few lucky people, she actually was family. Join us for a special post-show conversation with Erma’s children, Andy, Betsy and Matthew Bombeck; her long-time agent, Aaron Priest; and playwrights Allison Engel and Margaret Engel, for an intimate look at the life of a woman who made her own headlines.

Post-Show Discussions
October 27 at 7:30 pm
October 29 at 8:00 pm
November 4 at 12:00 pm

off book

Welcome to Off Book – Arena Stage’s online forum featuring American artists at the top of their game, talking about what they do best. Actors, directors, writers, dramaturgs, designers – unscripted and unrehearsed.

Playwrights Allison Engel and Margaret Engel discuss Erma Bombeck and their world-premiere play, the Equal Rights Amendment, and their collaborative process. Read More

Q&A with actress Barbara Chisholm about becoming Erma Bombeck onstage. Read More

Director David Esbjornson discusses his approach to making Erma’s story accessible today. Read More

Erma Bombeck and the Equal Rights Amendment. Read More


Audio Described

November 7, 2:00 pm

Open Captioned

November 5 at 8:00 pm