Ann Richards is a famed name in political history and you would think she would be great subject matter for a play. Holland Taylor, an experienced performer on stage, screen and TV, thought so; this first-time playwright, who only met the fab Richards once, and researched this subject for two years, has written a two-hour, one-woman play about this former Texas governor, who served only one term, but made an indelible mark on the world. Taylor is starring in it too, at the Vivian Beaumont. Her makeup and hair are spot-on and she sounds very much like the husky-voiced, humorous Richardson, who was raised in Waco. Richardson became a teacher, married, had four children, won campaigns for others before she herself was elected a County Commissioner. She was the first woman in Texas to win election as State Treasurer.
However, her big moment came when she knocked everyone out with her Keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Her delivery was flawless. Two of her lines—one about George Bush, which is not quoted in the play is: “I wanted you to hear what a REAL Texas accent sounds like—Poor George, he talks with a silver spoon in his mouth.” Another: “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did except backwards in high heels!” – are unforgettable. (Although Astaire created all the choreography.)
In the opening scene, Ann Richards is delivering the commencement address at her alma mater, Baylor University. In a white suit with high white hair, Holland Taylor is the reincarnation of Ann. The first fifteen minutes are witty and pungent; then the set, designed handsomely by Michael Fagin and lit by Matthew Richards, changes to the governor's office and the play goes stagnant and flat. It is filled with minutia that does not challenge the listener. Now the precious Richards' voice is one-note and borders on the monotonous. There are interesting moments, particularly the calls between Ann and former President Bill Clinton; I am sure he will enjoy watching this show. Less amusing is the interplay between Holland Taylor as Ann and her secretary, Nancy Kohler, played by the never-seen Julie White.
Writing a play is not easy. The second act is more successful. Holland Taylor, the actress is on stage for two hours all alone. For that we give her credit. But Holland Taylor, the playwright, has rushed through the touching moments, giving us no time to feel, until Ann is dying at the age of 73. Her divorce, her alcoholism, her loss as a governor, are all brushed over too lightly. There is little to no depth or nuance.
Ann at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center.