Judith Ivey in
The Lady With All the Answers
(© Carol Rosegg)
Judith Ivey in
The Lady With All the Answers
(© Carol Rosegg)
Those questioning Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize bona fides like to point to the deserving candidates who never won. And while I've yet to hear the name Eppie Lederer in that esteemed company, David Rambo's solo play The Lady With All the Answers, now making its New York premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre, makes a helluva case for the woman who you probably know by her nom de plume: Ann Landers.

Indeed, Rambo practically canonizes his subject, a Midwestern woman who spent half a century speaking out on issues previously only whispered-about in public, from sexual bondage to abortion to homosexuality to how to properly hang toilet paper. Fortunately, star Judith Ivey -- sporting Lederer's trademark bouffant hairdo and perfectly imitating her Midwestern Jewish speech pattern -- brings a groundedness to her portrayal of Lederer that blunts the script's self-aggrandizing storytelling.

The piece, directed here by B.J. Jones, is set in 1975 as Lederer, separated from her husband of 36 years, is struggling to write a particularly personal column in her posh apartment. (Neil Patel's smashing set is the pinnacle of tasteful décor.) As she tries to find the words to address her readers, she flips through old clippings and shares them with the audience -- essentially presenting an annotated version of Ann Landers' Greatest Hits -- and takes phone calls from her daughter, Margo, her estranged husband, Jules, and her sister, "Popo" (whom the rest of the world knew better as "Dear Abby").

She also shares some trivia that even Landers' most devoted fans might not know, such as the fact that Lederer got Hugh Hefner to wear pants whenever she visited The Playboy Mansion or that she personally placed phone calls on behalf of 2,500 Vietnam troops after visiting the war-torn country in 1967 (in a trip arranged by her good pal, Hubert Humphrey).

The Lady With All the Answers may not be accomplished theater; indeed, some viewers might find the whole enterprise overly cloying and cutesy. But it nevertheless both charms and informs its intended audience, much the way Ann Landers did in her day.