Friday, March 8, 2013

Ann: Just One of the Good Ole Boys

"I have a lot of opinions."--Ann Richards

Holland Taylor authors and stars in this one-woman show about former Governor Ann Richards.  Her work "Ann" is clearly a labor of love.  But audiences won't have to labor with it.  It's quick-witted and entertaining.  It might lose some momentum by the end but Taylor's sharp delivery and charming demeanor is hard to resist.

I will admit I had great resistance to the idea of a biographical play about a politician, so found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I was laughing.  Here, Taylor structures the story around Ann giving a speech to a college graduation.  We fade into Richards's memory and relive some moments of a day in her life as Governor of Texas and then after she has left office.  It's a gimmick that largely works and Richards's life story, as she tells it, is more interesting than most.  Taylor's play covers Richards's childhood with a loving, encouraging father and a tough-as-nails mother, to her life as a housewife where she was always helping others get elected to office, to her time in rehab for alcoholism and then her work in the Texas Capitol.  Richards, as seen here with her "Republican hair," is a tough cookie, who does too much, juggles everything, and expects the best from those around her (calling her young granddaughter "nearly perfect").  It's any wonder she ended up an alcoholic.

She talks in comedic one-liners ("I wasn't drinking for nothing") and political aphorisms ("Life is not fair.  But governments should be.").  But the delivery is so delightful, and a key part of Richards's character and persona that it makes sense. The story of her rise to prominence builds up to a very funny manic tirade as she is the Governor.  Between a speechwriter she wants to strangle ("I do let go and let God. But he can't get Suzanne to do anything either."), to a scheduling staffer who has some how left the Fourth of July empty to give the Governor a day off  ("Pick some little town and find me a parade.") to the male staffer she makes cry, she is on non-stop tear. She has to make a decision about an execution (it is Texas after all) and so between the comedy, the yelling, the sass, and the frustrations, there is a tinge of the serious that drifts in as she must determine whether to stay the execution of a man who raped a 76-year old nun. Taylor's bravura performance makes this transition seem natural and effortless. 

The flashback to her time as Governor is the best part.   As we drift away from that time period and she moves to New York I thought the story lost some steam.  But it was not so overlong that it undid the good work that had come before. I thought some of the direction (by Benjamin Endsley Klein) was too literal (and there was some over-gesticulation that was distracting) and I understand where the music cues came from but they were maudlin.

In the end this all rises or falls with Taylor.  She sells it with panache to spare.  Like any good politician, I was won over by her charms. 

I received complimentary tickets to this production. 

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