When you write a play about a real person, chances are you don't want the audience to leave the theater thinking, "Hmm, I bet she was a lot more interesting than that."
This is unfortunately the smaller-than-life treatment given to Eppie Friedman Lederer, who wrote a famed advice column as Ann Landers, in the Cleveland Play House production of The Lady With All the Answers.
This one-person show fills two acts with plenty of weird letters from troubled people (or pranksters), but playwright David Rambo stubbornly refuses to delve deeper into Lederer's inner psyche. The result is an evening of easy titters and pre-chewed humor but scant insight into one of the most influential newspaper columnists of the second half of the 20th century.
Eppie and her twin sister Pauline (who became the doyenne of the competitively syndicated "Dear Abby" advice column), had an ongoing professional and personal feud for years. But the seriousness of that split is shrugged off in this play with a couple of short phone calls between the two gals.
Most of the time is taken up with Eppie trying to overcome writer's block as she attempts to craft a column announcing her impending divorce. Married 36 years to Julius Lederer, the founder of Budget Rent a Car, Eppie is caught between her rage at his affair with a young woman and her long-standing opposition to divorce.
But even though she's onstage for a long time, Rambo never has Eppie explain why she never worked to save her treasured marriage. Instead, we get a ton of winks and knowing asides as she reads letters from folks who like to screw while wearing a motorcycle helmet or clean house in the nude.
As directed by Seth Gordon, Mimi Kennedy creates a warm and feisty presence for Eppie that feels very comfortable. But the whole show is too comfy by half, lacks dramatic tension and actually minimizes her significant contributions to the discussion of controversial issues such as homosexuality and the Vietnam War.