Monday, March 25, 2013

theatre review, ANN, Broadway, March 9

Former Texas governor Ann Richards was a firecracker with a larger than life personality.  Actress Holland Taylor briefly met Ann and was later inspired to create an autobiographical play based on interviews she conducted with people who knew Richards.  After several regional theatre productions of the play, Ann opened on Broadway a few weeks back.

Richards was born in 1933 and worked her way up through local Texas politics to become the state treasurer of Texas in 1982.  She came to national attention due to the famous speech she gave at the 1986 Democratic convention.  Her popularity from that speech led to her narrow victory in the 1990 race for the governor of Texas.  She became only the second woman to ever hold that office.

Holland Taylor is Ann Richards
While the play is an interesting one woman show it is actually more a character study of Richards, presenting her journey to the governor's office framed around a graduation speech she gives, more so then a regular dramatic play.  The speech itself and Ann's interaction with the audience, as if we are in fact the graduating class she is speaking to, are both impressive with Taylor firmly getting across the humor and directness in Richard's delivery as well as her no holds barred approach to politics.  However, it is a bit jarring to go from the opening sequence where Richards is giving the commencement address, full of her wit and wisdom, to the large set piece of Richards' office when she was governor and where she is now interacting with the off stage voice of her secretary as well as watching Richards go about her crazy day to day schedule as the governor.  The momentum that Taylor has created in the well crafted earlier sequence comes almost to a dead halt during the first part of the office scenes.  It might have something to do with the many phone calls Taylor includes in the office scenes to better portray Ann's busy schedule as well as to show the many odds she was up against.  But during those calls we only hear her side of the many phone conversations which after awhile becomes very repetitive with the many silent moments when she is listening to the other side of the conversation.  And while Taylor is great as Richards, never once dropping the Texas accent and we do hear Julie White's pre-recorded voice as her secretary, it is hard to have a one woman play that interacts with so many people when none of them are actually present.

Taylor in the Texas Governor's Office set
The ending is also a bit abrupt, with Taylor talking about her time after she lost her reelection bid, her office she set up in New York City right around the September 11th attacks and her subsequent death from cancer.  This is also all delivered to the audience as if it is the final part of her commencement speech and while it is a nice way to tie up Richards' story it doesn't exactly make sense in relation to the opening part of the commencement speech where it seems that this is one that Richards actually gave.  Are we supposed to beleive that this is a speech that Richards gave from heaven?  I think it would have been a better play if Taylor had a co-writer to help her better frame her ideas and how to get across the points about Richards that she wanted to highlight.  It isn't a horrible play at all, but could have been great if more attention had been paid to better playwrighting.

But Taylor's performance as Richards is really the reason to see this play.  She is simply amazing and while a lot of the illusion of her as Richards has to do with the wardrobe and wig design it is Taylor that has to pull everything together and hold the stage by herself for over two hours.  At that, Ann definitely succeeds.   

Official Show Site

Brief interview with Holland Taylor about the show, including clips:

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