One tough lady
Ann takes D.C.: Holland Taylor's Ann Richards governs nightly at the KennedyCenter
While the current Texas governor has decided to continue his jog for a certain Washington D.C. house, Texas’ favorite white hot mama governor, Ann Richards, is winning the votes of D.C. theater-goers by a landslide.
Ann, the one woman show written and performed by Emmy Award-winning actress Holland Taylor is spending a month at the Kennedy Center, and D.C. audiences seem glad she’s stopping by on her way to Broadway.
Back in 2010, CultureMap first brought the news of Holland Taylor’s journey to create a play examining the life of the late governor. Though Taylor only met Richards once, her death gave Taylor a drive to bring something of Ann Richards’s life to the stage. As Taylor told CultureMap, "I asked myself, 'Is there anyone more suited for a stage show than Ann Richards, with her ability to give people hope and connect with them?”
Now Ann is enjoying both theatrical and political buzz for the Kennedy Center performances, and there is talk that it will be heading to Broadway.
Maureen Patton, the artistic director of the Galveston Grand 1894 Opera House, gave Taylor the stage to premier her new work. Since then the play has had a limited run in San Antonio in December 2010, Austin in May 2011, and most recently in Chicago last November.
Now Ann is enjoying both theatrical and political buzz for the Kennedy Center performances, and there is talk that it will be heading to Broadway. Along the way, it has gone through rewrites and even a title change from the early Money, Marbles and Chalk to the current title, Ann.
In a series of interviews for the Kennedy Center, Holland explained that the play has changed since its debut in Texas and it continues to evolve as Richards’s close friends have become her friends and they continue to tell her stories.
I did not have a chance to see the play during its brief run in Galveston, so when visiting Washington D.C. recently, I was determined to catch Taylor’s depiction of Richards. I was also curious as to how capital audiences would interpret the Texas-sized personality, humor, and hair of Richards, who is still beloved by many Texans.
Taylor finds ways to incorporate some of Richards’ best lines of no-nonsense Lone Star philosophy and insults throughout the show, and one woman behind me uttered “yes” and “uh-huh” so many times after these Ann-isms, I was waiting for her to shout out “Amen.”
Taylor has structured the play around an imaginary commencement address Richards gives at an unnamed Texas college. This speech acts as a frame for Richards to recount tales of her childhood, family and the early years of her political career. The commencement address is an excellent device that allows Holland to explore Richards’s personal life that would later drive her political aspirations and beliefs while humanizing a women who even before her death had become something of a Texas legend.
After giving us the players and plays of the early days, along with colorful and illuminating tangents and bawdy stories, Richards transitions into her governorship and that’s when the real fun begins. The set changes from the stage of the college commencement to the governor’s office, as Taylor sits down to give us one ordinary day in the life of Governor Richards.
She doesn’t stay seated for long.
Armed only with a telephone and an ever-open intercom to her secretary, Ann’s day entails chasing a tardy speech writer, organizing a fishing weekend with her grown children, scheduling a quick boot-buying trip for her staff during an official visit to El Paso, advising President Bill Clinton on a supreme court nomination, advising a staff member on her unflattering hairstyling choice, all the while wrestling with a real life-or-death decision of whether to stay a looming execution.
I wasn’t ready for this long, delicious scene to end, which is probably playwright Taylor’s intention. At the end of the Richards’s term Taylor, as Richards, never lets the audience get too maudlin at the loss of the governor’s office as Richards finds a new role in New York that allows her influence to expand beyond Texas' borders.
The weekday evening performance I attended had few empty seats. And while the audience might not have caught every Texas joke or political reference, they laughed throughout the show. Taylor finds ways to incorporate some of Richards’ best lines of no-nonsense Lone Star philosophy and insults throughout the show, and one woman behind me uttered “yes” and “uh-huh” so many times after these Ann-isms, I was waiting for her to shout out “Amen.”
Ann appears to be winning its theatrical election in D.C. The future will tell if Broadway audiences are for ready for an Ann administration as well.
Ann plays at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. through Sunday.