Broadway bow of actress' play paints enjoyable portrait of an imperfect solo subject
“Ann,” the play written by and starring Holland Taylor, opened March 7 on Broadway after a tour that included a stop at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The following is Paul Harris’s review of the show’s D.C. engagement, which ran in Variety Jan. 5. Both the credits and the body of this review have been edited to reflect changes to the producing team, the running time and the script.
Former Texas governor Ann Richards, one of the Lone Star State’s more colorful and outspoken figures, is impersonated with full frontal feistiness in “Ann,” a solo play written and performed by Holland Taylor. Actress pays homage to the late political figure (Richards died of cancer in 2006) with an affectionate portrayal that celebrates her wit, determination and homespun values; result is an enjoyable perspective of an imperfect solo subject, given Richards’ limited consequence on the U.S. political stage.
In most respects, the anecdote-filled vignette told here is about her spunk. The play opens at a commencement address being delivered by the ex-governor, buoyant despite the disappointment of her re-election defeat by George W. Bush. A penchant for colorful speech quickly emerges as she greets the unseen graduating class at the outset of lighthearted reflections gleaned from a modest childhood under a domineering mother.
Dressed in a white suit and perfect wig, Taylor delivers a strikingly realistic portrayal with her Texas twang, confident smile and no-nonsense demeanor. Topics include a passion for fairness rooted in Richards’ experiences at a multiracial school, a failed marriage to a civil rights attorney and life as a functioning alcoholic coaxed into politics.
The setting eventually morphs into designer Michael Fagin’s cheery governor’s office, dominated by an imposing desk and twin state flags. Show becomes a presumed day-in-the-life glimpse of a tireless and demanding exec juggling matters weighty and frivolous at director Benjamin Klein’s allegro tempo, seasoned liberally with humor.
This day’s activities include deliberating over a controversial death row pardon request, criticizing a speech writer’s failings, micro-managing a weekend family getaway, bantering on the phone with President Bill Clinton and pausing to mend a frayed flag. A nonstop barrage of urgent telephone calls continues throughout, fielded by an unseen secretary. In the final moments, Richards is remembered in a touching moment from the hereafter.
Show would seem to have built-in limitations in today’s highly partisan political climate but received a warm welcome opening night from a decidedly Democratic crowd at the Kennedy Center.
Vivian Beaumont Theater; 1,113 seats; $125 top
A Bob Boyett, Harriet Newman Leve, Jane Dubin, Jack Thomas, Mark Johannes, Amy Danis in association with Sarahbeth Grossman, Jon Cryer, Lisa Joyner, Minerva Prods., Lary Brandt, Brian Dorsey, Kate Hathaway, Allison Thomas, Jennifer Isaacson and Lincoln Center Theater production of a play in two acts by Holland Taylor. Executive producer, Kevin Bailey. Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein.
Sets, Michael Fagin; costumes, Julie Weiss; lights, Matthew Richards; sound, Ken Huncovsky; projection, Zachary Borovay. Reviewed at the Kennedy Center Dec. 21, 2012. Opened on Broadway March 7, 2013. Running time: 1 HOUR, 55 MIN.
Ann — Holland Taylor