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. Production visits the Kennedy Center as part of a brief tour that producer Bob Boyett hopes will include Broadway.
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. “You all look as good as a fresh scraped carrot,” she says to 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.