Holland Taylor Resurrects Ann Richards, A Political Giant
by Jennifer Ann Charron
The weirder the 21st Century gets, the more the late 20th Century seems a million miles away. I find this true with just about everything, but never more shocking in the world of politics. I’ll save the chilling discussion of the rise of authoritarianism and populism for someone a lot smarter than me; I am nostalgic about authenticity.
In our new live theater streaming only world, I decided to revisit an old political icon. “Ann” is the theatrical portrait of Ann Richards, the feisty, liberal, first woman Governor of Texas (1991-1995). Written and performed by Emmy Award-winning actor Holland Taylor, “Ann” is a sensitive, yet hilarious one-woman play showcasing the sharp-tongued, ardent feminist, and progressive we love and still miss.
Director Benjamin Endsley Klein cleverly starts the play with Richards’ commencement speech to Texas University graduates and we are the audience. He seamlessly moves to a day-in-the-life of Richards in her office, governing as only she can—in shrewd, loud, Texas-style. If you can’t picture it, Mimi Swartz, the editor of Texas Monthly wrote, “She out-bubbas the bubbas by picking her teeth with an ivory toothpick and cleaning her fingernails with a Swiss army knife.”
During Taylor’s research for the play, she spoke with hundreds of Richards’ friends and family members, which clearly gives her amazing insight, because she is everything and more that I remember about Ann Richards. Taylor has Richards down to a T, from the shock of white old- lady hair, to the dirty jokes, to the pearl-buttoned tweed suit with perfect two-inch heels, not forgetting the bright red lipstick and matching purse.
Holland Taylor is probably best known as Charlie Sheen’s mother in the television series “Two-and-a-half Men,” but at this point I can’t see her as anything but Ann Richards. Beyond convincing, Taylor is fabulous.
While the laugh out loud moments are endless, “Ann” delivers a penetrating, vulnerable portrait of Richards that rounds out the warmth and depth of her character. She discusses her alcoholism, family intervention, and later sobriety, sympathetically—without self-pity—just another chink in her armor.
The complexity and choices in Taylor’s script moved me. We see Richards deliberately granting a stay of execution for a deeply troubled, child-abused death-row inmate. She pleads, “He never had a chance.”
It’s hard to imagine Ann Richards living in today’s political climate. I suspect she would be just the same no nonsense, saucy broad she always was, but the political and cultural environment around us is utterly different.
While 20th Century U.S. politicians spin nostalgia for forging compromises with good ‘ole boys, we good liberals accuse them of being out of touch. Would she be trapped in her old folksy style, now that politics is so vicious? Or, would she rise like a savior?
Luckily, I don’t have to go there. I can just douse myself in Taylor’s brilliance as Ann Richards, a national treasure and a political giant of her time.
“Ann” is worth every one of the 153 minutes of streaming video—perhaps a glimpse of 1990s politics is just the thing we need before things really start getting interesting this fall.
“Ann” by Holland Taylor, directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein— Streaming at: PBS.org
Cast: Holland Taylor