By Lucy Komisar
George W. Bush’s victory over Texas Governor Ann Richards was a tragedy of national dimensions. We know the Bush presidential disaster that stepping stone led to. But this production focuses on what Texas lost when Richards left office. Not only did she have better politics, but she was a superior human being. She made it on her own, without a “silver foot” in her mouth. And she cared about ordinary people, not the 1%.
“Ann” is a very fine solo play written and acted by Holland Taylor. Her accent and demeanor are spot-on. But the other value of the production is how close it gets to Richards and what it has to say. Ann Richards would think she was looking into a mirror.
Unlike a Hollywood biopic, the play moves along without the dramatic conflict you might expect. But the reality of Richards‘ life has drama enough.
Holland gives an excellent performance, channeling Richards’ guts and down-home humor as well as the exaggerated sense of self that politicians at that level have. She is believable and charming. We have to admire Ann Richards all over again.
She was a tough, courageous woman who got into Texas politics, because, in one of her homey metaphors, she was tired of being in the grandstand and not being the horse. She was a Texas feminist.
Richard was born in the 1930s and grew up in San Diego, CA, at a time that didn‘t spawn many feminists. In the 1950s, in her 20s, she married a civil rights lawyer and settled down to be a housewife. It wasn‘t fun. She started drinking.
Then she decided to run for county commissioner. Her faux liberal civil rights lawyer husband didn‘t take to her getting into local politics. The next choice was divorce.
She later worked for Sarah Weddington, the Texas state legislator who in 1970 represented Jane Roe in the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights case that went to the United States Supreme Court.
After that it seemed like a better idea to be governor of Texas. She was a 10-year-sober alcoholic divorced woman and a Democratic no less. She jokes, “I came from Georgia prison stock.” She was supported by women in Texas politics, which she describes as “a contact sport.”
Richards was governor from 1991 to 1995. We see her in the governor‘s office, with its velvet burgundy curtains, an elegant brown wood desk, a high ceiling, and latticed windows.
A national player, she talks to President Clinton about health care. She refuses to compromise on a concealed weapons bill. (Applause from the New York audience.) She deals with political crises and her kids as well as with a mostly inefficient staff. She is criticized, because she doesn‘t take Mother Theresa‘s call while she is giving a speech. Typical absurd political cant.
Some of the Democratic Convention interaction with Bill Clinton is silly. But her warning about what happens when candidates are bought by the rich could well be issued today.
Richards left office and politics when she was 60. A quip delivered early in the play could be her summing up. Richards says, If you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in hi-i-gh heels!
“Ann.” Written and performed by Holland Taylor; directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein. Vivian Beaumont Theater, 165 West 65th Street, New York City. (212-239-6200); $30 for 21 to 35 year olds at LincTix.org. Opened March 7, 2013; closes June 30, 2013. 5/1/13.