Ann Richards’ story is different than what one would imagine for a politician: a small-town woman who was raised to believe her duty in life was to be a housewife, only to then rise through the ranks of politics to become governor of Texas (a divorced, liberal governor, at that!). Ann is written by Holland Taylor, a seasoned stage actress, who also plays the title character, a feisty Southern gal, glowing in her eggshell-colored suit and never without a dirty joke in her back pocket. The play depicts Richards as the ultimate “I can have it all” woman who is also tirelessly passionate.
The one-woman show is framed by scenes in which Ann delivers a commencement speech at an anonymous university graduation. She openly and warmly reminisces about her rural childhood, her lovable Daddy, her hard-as-rocks Mama, and her move from Texas to San Diego, which opened her eyes to the futility of racism and segregation – something she admitted was just ingrained in Texan culture. The middle of the play transitions into a typical “day in the life” character study of Ann during her gubernatorial days, and we get to see politician-Ann juxtaposed with homemaker-Ann. She juggles everything from phone calls about staying the execution of Johnny Frank Garrett, a disturbed man charged with the rape and murder of an elderly nun, to organizing a fishing trip with her now-grown children, and all with a never-ending supply of clever banter and witticisms. Despite the heavier issues that she is required to deal with, it’s a treat to witness a typical day for Ann Richards, particularly when that day involves flirting with Bill Clinton and gleefully scolding her newer hires. She is a steel magnolia whose life is a nonstop deluge of negotiations, debates, and fixing the fringe on the flag hanging in her office. And never does she miss a beat – we are only granted an intermission because Ann decides that she needs a trip to the bathroom.
Holland Taylor is captivating as she embodies the impassioned governor, and the play is meant to act as an inspirational piece. The choice of making the play a solo show is an interesting one: the advantage of a one-person show is that the playwright is given a medium to reveal to the audience what would otherwise remain hidden, the secrets that the lead character would be too ashamed to admit to anyone else. Holland Taylor as a playwright doesn’t take advantage of this, though, and we never see Ann Richards “off.” The beginning and ending of the play, though entertaining, reads as a political rally, full of pomp and theatricality (the Chariots of Fire soundtrack playing is overkill). During the character study scene in the middle, though she is alone in her office, Richards is constantly on full-steam, hard at work, and the majority of her dialogue is a one-sided conversation on the phone. One can’t help but wonder what kind of Ann we would see if she were allowed to sit, breathe, and truly reflect on her life and the positive and negative impacts it had. Taylor certainly wanted to portray Richards as an inspiration, not just to women, but to all Americans, but she does so a bit too affectionately. Richards briefly mentions her failed marriage and casually banters about her history with alcoholism, but Taylor lightly glosses over these faults, and little insight is given. We are left feeling as though we have received an overall summary of who Ann Richards was in the public eye, but are never given the opportunity to wrap our heads around who else she could be.
Holland Taylor owns the stage for the two-and-a-half hour show, and director Benjamin Endsley Klein keeps her going at a steady and manageable pace. Ann demonstrates with relish the successes and sass of the charismatic Texan politician, and is entertaining to a fault. Now if only we were allowed a slightly more revelatory depiction of her, so that we see her as not just a pistol, but as a human.