Ann is actress Holland Taylor's passion project. It took years to make, pulled together from conversations Taylor had with former Texas Governor Ann Richards's family and friends. What comes across on the stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theater is nothing less than a modern history lesson in how an average housewife can rise up to become someone more notable and unforgettable. Taylor does Richards's memory justice with her wonderful portrayal of the demanding, yet charming politician.
The play opens at a fictional university commencement, where Richards has been recruited to share words if wisdom with the graduates. Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein (an impressive debut for him), the show takes off from there, giving Richards a platform to tell jokes, grow personal and regale the audience with her arrays of life events. Richards hit her stride during the keynote speech of the 1988 Democratic National Convention, and in this way Klein's choice to have Richards depicted in this way, as the host of the festivities for the evening, is a smart one.
Although one could likely have enjoyed listening to the real-life Richards go on and on at a dinner party, this one-woman show might not suit everyone. Richards's commanding presence comes out through a series of one-sided phone calls or "interactions" with her assistant, but you almost wish there was another voice to be heard on the other end. Just to balance things out a bit. How did Richards react to her opposition? Clearly they existed as she was voted out after one term in office. Her achievements, the show's producers would likely contend, were in getting elected and making a prominent name for herself so quickly. Yet, within a long two hours, it's hard for the newcomer to really understand why Richards was deserving of such praise as a one-woman show under the big lights.
The best parts of the show come at the beginning and the end when Taylor is back at the front of the stage, comfortable at the podium, making eyes with the crowd. That's where Richards became most prominent and established herself as a political force. Sure, she needed time to campaign behind the scenes to get voters behind her. But that's the part of politics that's left unseen. We prefer to see our politicians in the spotlight. Otherwise, they look just like the rest of us.
Follow Danny Groner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DannyGroner