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Two Views of "Ann"

By Paulanne Simmons and By Lucy Komisar

* * *

Holland Taylor Shines as Governor of the Lone Star State
By Paulanne Simmons

Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein
Vivian Beaumont Theatre
150 West 65 Street
Opened March 7, 2013
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 14, 2013

Holland Taylor in "Ann." Photo by Ave Bonar.

Several years ago I sat next to former Texas governor Ann Richards at the theater. She was next to her friend, columnist Liz Smith. What were these two prominent individuals talking about during intermission? Grandchildren!

In Holland Taylor’s solo show, "Ann," directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein, grandchildren also have a strong presence. But so do Richards’ children, husband and parents. Taylor’s beautifully written and performed show succeeds because it gives us a personal view of a public figure.

The show is part monologue, part phone conversations with people whose voices we have to imagine, and Klein’s capable direction makes all transitions smooth. Richards’ assistant, Nancy Kohler, is the offstage voice of the excellent Julie White.

In her monologue, a speech delivered at the graduation exercises of an imaginary college, Taylor traces Richards’ journey from alcoholic housewife, to public servant to governor. She meditates on her father (supportive), her mother (difficult), her husband (the Richards married at 19 and had four children before they divorced) and the various people she encountered on her way to the governor’s mansion. She also gives the students good advice and tells dirty jokes.

In the second part of the show, Taylor steps into the newly revealed governor’s office, and we get a glimpse of a day in the life of the busy governor of a state that’s as big as France. What does a governor do most of the day? She cajoles, chastises, demands, negotiates, conciliates.

Holland Taylor in "Ann." Photo by Ave Bonar.

We see Richards take a firm stand on issuing a stay of execution for a murderer who was once an abused child. We see her joking with her good friend Bill Clinton. We see her insisting that the Fourth of July is not a time to take a day off. And we watch her trying to bring her quarreling offrspring together for a family vacation.

At the end of the play, Taylor delivers a speech Richards was never able to give. Death was one battle she could not win. In this speech Richards enunciates her own beliefs on the responsibilities of not only government but also the people who in a democracy are the government.
Taylor has been working on this show since 2007. "Ann" has been presented at Galveston’s Grand 1894 Opera House, San Antonio’s Empire Theatre, Austin’s Paramount Theatre., Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre and Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. It opens on Broadway at at time when we are having some of the most bitter political fights in the this country’s history.

At the heart of this debate is the very purpose of government. Richards was clearly on the side of an activist government, very much like the one Obama is promoting. She believed government can and should be a force for political and economic justice, putting the American dream within the reach of all citizens.

What a great show! What a great message!


In “Ann,” Holland Taylor Channels Texas Governor Ann Richards as if She Were Here Today
By Lucy Komisar

Written and performed by Holland Taylor; directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein.
Vivian Beaumont Theater, 165 West 65th Street, New York City.
lct.org or through Telecharge.com (212-239-6200); http://www.lct.org/showMain.htm?id=220
$30 for 21 to 35 year olds at LincTix.org.
Opened March 7, 2013; closes Sept 1, 2013.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar March 14, 2013.

George W. Bush’s victory over Texas Governor Ann Richards was a tragedy of national dimensions. We know the Bush presidential disaster that stepping stone led to. But this production focuses on what Texas lost when Richards left office. Not only did she have better politics, but she was a superior human being. She made it on her own, without a “silver foot” in her mouth. And she cared about ordinary people, not the 1%.

Holland Taylor as Ann Richards. Photo by Ave Bonar.

“Ann” is a very fine solo play written and acted by Holland Taylor. Her accent and demeanor are spot-on. But the other value of the production is how close it gets to Richards and what it has to say. Ann Richards would think she was looking into a mirror.

Unlike a Hollywood biopic, the play moves along without the dramatic conflict you might expect. But the reality of Richards’ life has drama enough.

Holland gives an excellent performance, channeling Richards’ guts and down-home humor as well as the exaggerated sense of self that politicians at that level have. She is believable and charming. We have to admire Ann Richards all over again.

She was a tough, courageous woman who got into Texas politics, because, in one of her homey metaphors, she was tired of being in the grandstand and not being the horse. She was a Texas feminist.

Holland Taylor as Ann Richards. Photo by Ave Bonar.

Richard was born in the 1930s and grew up in San Diego, CA, at a time that didn’t spawn many feminists. In the 1950s, in her 20s, she married a civil rights lawyer and settled down to be a housewife. It wasn’t fun. She started drinking.

Then she decided to run for county commissioner. Her faux liberal civil rights lawyer husband didn’t take to her getting into local politics. The next choice was divorce.

She later worked for Sarah Weddington, the Texas state legislator who in 1970 represented “Jane Roe” in the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case that went to the United States Supreme Court.

After that it seemed like a better idea to be governor of Texas. She was a 10-year-sober alcoholic divorced woman and a Democratic no less. She jokes, “I came from Georgia prison stock.” She was supported by women in Texas politics, which she describes as “a contact sport.”

Holland Taylor as Ann Richards at the Governor's desk. Photo by Ave Bonar.

Richards was governor from 1991 to 1995. We see her in the governor’s office, with its velvet burgundy curtains, an elegant brown wood desk, a high ceiling, and latticed windows.

A national player, she talks to President Clinton about health care. She refuses to compromise on a concealed weapons bill. (Applause from the New York audience.) She deals with political crises and her kids as well as with a mostly inefficient staff. She is criticized, because she doesn’t take Mother Theresa’s call while is giving a speech. Typical absurd political cant.

Some of the Democratic Convention interaction with Bill Clinton is silly. But her warning about what happens when candidates are bought by the rich could well be issued today.

Richards left office and politics when she was 60. A quip delivered early in the play could be her summing up. Richards says, “If you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in hi-i-gh heels!


Visit Lucy Komisar’s website: The Komisar Scoop

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