“ANN”, written and performed by Holland Taylor, is a deeply researched and entertaining look at the life of the political firebrand and Texas governor Ann Richards. Beginning in an imagined college auditorium, continuing into the Texas Governor’s office and into a sort of dream world, much the play details Richards’ life from her birth in a small town in west Texas through her political career and beyond using the subject’s inimitable style, words and humor. Fans of Ms. Taylor’s work in films like Legally Blonde or television shows like “Two and a Half Men” might be hard pressed to recognize the actress in this role. Her movement, accent and cadence so closely resemble those of Richards and are unlike her own.
The play begins with Ann Richards stepping up to a podium of a Texas college auditorium to address students, faculty and administration. Starting as a typical commencement address, She begins talking about her own life, beginning with her birth in Lakeview Texas, the only child of her doting father and reserved mother. The monologue highlights significant moments in her life such as the time her mother drove her to southern California to join her father who had been drafted into service. It was the first time either of them left their segregated Texas home and proved to be a mind-expanding experience in cultural diversity. She goes on to describe her marriage to David Richards, the children they raised, the parties they threw and the political activism the shared. Richards describes that as a woman, campaign work was limited to stuffing envelopes. She proved to be an accomplished political worker, having worked to elect liberal to the Texas Legislature. Although accustomed to supporting the campaigns of others, she ran successful campaigns for Commissioner and State Treasurer. During the latter term, she describes the intervention and treatment that led to her recovery from alcoholism. The strain of her role in government on her marriage proved too great and resulted in her divorce.
Her life took a significant turn when asked to speak at the Democratic Convention in 1988. The barn-burner of a speech thrust her into the national limelight and set the tone for her political future. It opened the opportunity to being the second woman to be elected Governor of Texas. At this point the play takes the audience inside the office of governor’s mansion and focuses on one particularly hectic day on the job and some of the more pressing issued she faced. Taylor is “joined” by the off-stage voice of her secretary, Nancy Kohler, by played the wonderfully dead panned Julie White. Act two resumes in the Governor’s office, transitioning to an office in Manhattan as we follow Richards from political office and into life as senior political adviser and consultant.
Taylor’s admiration of the former Governor is clear, and the resulting piece of theatre is a sort of Valentine. Although a little slow on occasion, Taylor holds the stage and audience for the full two acts. Through both monologue and an imagined day in office, the playwright brings biographical detail to life, some fact, some imagined, with warmth and humor. Taylor avoids making a “political play.” There are some moments when political positions are addressed, most notably issues of women’s health and equality. They function more as an underscoring of Richards’ passions and motivations, not a diatribe. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience.
This show is great for fans of Ann Richards, Holland Taylor or politically minded audience members. It is a good offering for people who prefer plays to musicals, new works to revivals, and sophisticated viewers more into ideas than crashing chandeliers.
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