Before there was the governator
"Money, Marbles and Chalk" is an old-time Texas phrase for "going all out." It is also the title of the new biographical play of Ann Richards debuting next month at Galveston's Grand 1894 Opera House.
The production is the pet project of actress Holland Taylor, who is known for taking on roles as strong-willed women such as Nancy Reagan, a tough Harvard law professor in Legally Blonde and a sultry judge in The Practice (for which she won an Emmy in 1999). To a certain extent she's also been typecast as a patrician mother: To Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer on Two and a Half Men, to Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day, to Tina Fey in Baby Mama, to Debra Messing in The Wedding Date, to Leslie Mann in George of the Jungle and to Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.
In an act of artistic integrity, Taylor has increasingly opted out of roles in the past few years to devote herself to researching and writing the biographical solo show. Although a Philadelphia native, Taylor has found a muse in the firecracker former governor after only one chance meeting.
"I don't even know how to say the words without sounding sappy," Taylor told NPR, "but she captured my imagination."
Richards, who died in 2006 at the age of 73, served just one term as governor from 1991 to 1995, losing her bid for a second term to George W. Bush, but she left an indelible mark on Texas culture with her iconic snowy tuft of hair and dedication to representing the rights of women, African-Americans and Latinos.
"To be governor of Texas," Taylor said, "which was the ninth-largest economy in the world, and it's a macho state, and it's a Republican state — and she became governor, she had to affect a stance of strength even more than what was her own, she had to be unshakable."
Taylor said she only intends to evoke, not mimic Richards, but her research certainly reflects a devotee who has "gone all out." The actress keeps a framed photograph of Ann on her nightstand, has hired a show-business wigmaker and enlisted a dialect coach to perfectly portray that Texas twang. She maintains binders packed with articles and detailed transcripts of every interview.
For all of her big-shot gallivanting, Taylor finds the most inspiration in Richards' profound, quiet sense of fairness: "She said, 'I know that life isn't fair. I know that. We all know that. But government should be.'"
Money, Marbles and Chalk runs for a limited engagement May 14-16.