Babeland

Theater Review: Ann

Wickedly funny tribute to the Texas maverick by Holland Taylor

Remember the humor in politics? Clearly, Holland Taylor does. And she’s reminding us of it every night in a hilarious Broadway play, Ann—a one-woman tribute to Ann Richards, the late Governor of Texas.

Serving one memorable term before losing to George W. Bush, Richards was a wisecracking firebrand with energy and charisma to burn. She spoke the truth, while keeping true to herself. She understood who she was and knew how to get things done. How else could a bluer-than-blue, liberal Democrat, the wife of a civil rights lawyer, win the governorship of big, red, macho Republican Texas? Ann Richards made things happen.

And Taylor does her proud. With a voice straining at times, she gives it all she’s got, a lone star portraying a great lady with authenticity, empathy and laughter. It’s not surprising that she recently got a Tony nomination for her performance.

The solo show is split into two well-defined parts, the first opening with an imaginary commencement speech. Taylor takes the podium as Richards, transforming the audience into newly minted college grads. She cracks good-natured jokes and doles out advice while recounting her improbable journey from 1950s housewife to political power player.

During the second act, we’re in Richards’ gubernatorial office. We witness the governor at her desk, skillfully multitasking through a head-spinning sequence of phone calls, lassoing the powerful men of the world (e.g., Bill Clinton) to join forces, while pondering the fate of a condemned prisoner, juggling myriad duties, scolding goldbricks and patching up her kids’ sibling rivalries. It’s a whirlwind of activity—and all second nature.

Women of the Great Depression were just equipped to do everything and to do it well. Minutes after giving birth to Ann, we learn, Richards’ mother got out of bed and killed a chicken for dinner. “After all,” the governor once quipped, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

As the play winds down, Taylor takes on a more subdued, philosophical tone. We see Richards sitting in a chair for some quiet chit-chat, but she’s still as funny as ever. In the concluding moments, she recites some lines from “Death is Nothing at All” by Henry Scott Holland. Richards kept a copy of that poem in case she needed it for a eulogy at a funeral someday. “I never thought it would be my own!” she chuckles.

You probably recall Taylor as the sharp-tongued grande dame Peggy Peabody, the mother of Helena (Rachel Shelley) in Showtime’s “The L Word”. During her tenure on that series, in 2007, Taylor broke ground on this project, a two-act play about Richards’ life and career. (Richards passed away from cancer the previous year.) The play’s text, which Taylor meticulously researched and wrote, is amalgamated from sources including personal anecdotes told by Richards’ family, friends, colleagues and staff.

The solo performance appears to be part homage, part character study, without a plot-driven structure. Even so, there is still a powerful story within it. It’s the story of a remarkable woman of wit, compassion and courage.

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