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New York City Theater

The Vivian Beaumont, Lincoln

“Ann” is in the hands of a superb actor and a reasonably good writer. We speak of the one-woman show now on the boards at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. This Lincoln Center piece focuses on Ann Richards, the one-time governor of Texas and a pioneer among American stateswomen.

Holland Taylor is wholly responsible for this portrayal--as both writer and performer. With a strong stage presence, she nails this remarkable woman in every gesture and speech inflection, getting the pace and Texan inflection just right.

It is a day in the life of the governor. We see Ann Richards at her desk, handling the large and small crises, from intimate family calls to chats with Bill Clinton to tackling the demands of office—all played out between Ann and her telephone. These exchanges intersperse with shouted orders to her secretary in the next room (played by Julie White)—heard but not seen.

Richards’ down-home charm, her dry wit, her forcefulness, is present in every give-and-take. Known for her outspoken, wry style, she came to national attention when she delivered a keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. “Poor George,” she said, referring to the senior Bush, then the Republican candidate for the vice-presidency. “He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” No wonder she became the first woman to be elected to that office of governor! (In earlier times “Ma” Ferguson assumed that office when her husband died.)

Moreover, Taylor looks the part, with her frothy white hairdo severely in place, her smart white suit (probably from Neiman Marcus), her stylish pumps (later abandoned as she strides about the stage). Though Taylor maybe somewhat more handsome than the original (as actors often are), she is a striking look-alike.

Seeing the Richards story presented so attractively, one is inspired to return to the internet, savoring the full biography. It seems that Richards espoused a strong liberal view, deep in the heart of conservative old Texas! She fought for women’s rights, civil rights, prison reform—achieving progress in these areas. Even after her defeat to George W. Bush she continued to work for women’s rights.

Holland’s contribution as writer is less successful. The piece runs on too long, particularly during the final moments. Richards, by courtesy of the writer, is now in a college auditorium, where she makes a vigorous (but repetitive) plea for human rights. Earlier moments of the play could also take a more vigorous pruning.

No matter. On the whole, the piece engenders a new respect for this particular Texan and her place in history.

--Irene Backalenick
March 7, 2013

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