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Nixon-Eisenhower descendant directs Bombeck play in Bristol

The granddaughter of Richard Nixon and great-granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Philadelphia-based theatrical director Jennie Eisenhower, has no interest in going into politics.

“Although I do care a lot about political causes, my interests lie in the arts,” she said after a rehearsal at Bristol Riverside Theatre, where she is directing the season-opener, “Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End.”

Running through Oct. 7, the one-woman-show, starring Licia Watson as the title character, spotlights the witty newspaper columnist and best-selling humorist beloved for giving voice to the everyday concerns of suburban housewives and mothers.

“I think that motherhood is the great equalizer,” said Eisenhower, herself the mother of a five-year-old daughter.

“It’s such a relatable topic and it never really gets dated to laugh about how crazy it is,” she explained, when asked why a show about Bombeck, whose heyday as a writer was the 1970s, would be of interest to audiences today.

“And I also think that with the #MeToo movement that’s happening now, the feminist angle of Bombeck’s story is very interesting.”

A Dayton, Ohio-based stay-at-home mother of three children, who wrote her columns while the kids were at school, and had the housework done and dinner on the table by the time they and her working husband came home, Bombeck also traveled to every state in the nation campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment.

“During the 1970s, when the women’s movement was causing a lot of friction and divisions, she was someone who could reach across and relate to women who weren’t so ‘bra-burning,’” said Eisenhower.

In preparing to portray Bombeck, Watson re-read “The Feminine Mystique,” the 1963 Betty Friedan work that raised feminist consciousness in multitudes of women.

“Because that book was a huge life-changer for Erma, I really wanted to read it now, as a mature woman, to help me understand that shift for her,” said Watson, who has also been reading lots of Bombeck’s own writings.

“I was aware of who Erma Bombeck was when I was growing up, but mostly as she related to my mother. By the time I became a mom, Bombeck wasn’t somebody I was conscious of anymore. Reading her work now, I’m constantly saying I wish I had read this back then.

“There was a time in my life when I first became a parent that I don’t feel like I laughed enough. There was so much pressure, and being able to find the humor in it all back then would have been helpful.”

Written by journalists Allison and Margaret Engel (the twin sisters who also penned “Red Hot Patriot,’ a one-woman-show about political columnist Molly Ivins), the monodrama, which premiered in 2015 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., relies heavily on Bombeck’s words.

“There are no dancers fan-kicking or helicopters landing onstage,” said Eisenhower. “So the challenge for me as a director is to keep the production visually interesting. Audibly, it’s extremely interesting, but my job is to also give the audience something to watch.

“So we have a beautiful set designed by Roman Tatarowicz and fabulous props that really makes it feel like we’re in this middle-class, 1960s, suburban home. And throughout the show, Erma is essentially ‘home-making’ as she did throughout her life as a columnist. It’s as if we’re just spending a day with Erma Bombeck.”

If you go:
“Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End”

Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St. Bristol

Tickets: or 215-785-0100

Show times:
7:30 p.m. Oct. 4; 8 p.m. Oct. 5; 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 6; and 3 p.m. Oct. 7