Theater Guyd: “Ann” of a Thousand Ways

David Toussaint
Authored by
David Toussaint
New York Guyd/Features Writer
March 20, 2013
6:15 p.m.

There’s only one character missing from Holland Taylor’s ambitiously delicious one-actor production of Ann: George W. Bush. Whether lawsuits were pending or Taylor decided to play nice (which seems doubtful), the President whose father Richards famously said was “born with a silver foot in his mouth” is nowhere to be found. Bush Junior replaced Richards as governor of Texas after her first term, which makes the omission all the more conspicuous. It’s a noticeable blip in an otherwise funny, biting, smart, and sentimental look at one of the 21st century’s most important and fascinating politicians.

Holland Taylor as Ann Richards

The two-hour (phew!) production at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein, takes place in the present (Richards died in 2006), and is more or less structured around a fictional commencement speech. The conceit works beautifully, allowing Taylor to both expound upon her favorite topics and back stories, and to then show her in office during a “typical day” at work, finally wrapping back around the present as she discusses her own death. The sets by Michael Fagin are simple and elegant, moving back and forth and allowing Taylor room to caress the stage sides or sit elegantly in her chair, heels off, hair in puff-white place.

You don’t need to fully understand Richards’ legacy to have a ball. As she would say, let me get you up to speed: a divorced, female Democrat in conservative Texas, a recovering alcoholic with a drunken sailor’s mouth, and a smart as a tack operator who manages her office with as much gusto as she manages her children. Taylor talks politics for a good chunk of the play, and her views on the death penalty and abortion and, especially, gun control, vibrate and rattle through the theater now that only her spirit can endorse them.  Richards wants gun-toters to carry the weapons around their necks—not a bad idea.

It’s the fun of Richards that Holland, as writer, focuses on, and she’s a hoot. A bit of background on her family leads to the news of the day, and Richards spends time talking to, most notably, Bill Clinton, telling him—and us—one of the best jokes of the night. She almost threatens her assistants for incompetence, but there’s a nurturing behind the taunts. When, late in the evening, she reflects that a staff member was always referred by her as “darling,” her smile exposes a full heart.

The scenes in the office drag on too long, and it would have been nice to hear more Ann Richards zingers—hello, W! There’s also a slight slump in the pacing, where either some cuts or more crises could have upped the dramatic ante. To his credit, however, Endsley never lets the pacing come to a halt, even during the more emotional segments.

As for Taylor, whose been doing theater forever but who will always be remembered for playing the mother on Two and a Half Men, she’s a dead-ringer for Richards, and a dead-on fantastic talent. Her Richards never strays or steps aside, and by evening’s end, when a photograph of the former governor shows up in the background, you’ll have forgotten that they’re not the same person. She’s an utter joy to watch, and perhaps the best legacy Ann Richards could have asked for. While W. got Oliver Stone to cement his past, Richards gets the permanence of performance; current, alive, and forever in the ether.

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