Holland Taylor was given a full-throated standing ovation after delivering her astonishing one-woman show, “ANN” at Pasadena Playhouse at the west coast premiere. “Ann” is the labor of love written and performed by Taylor, which had a Broadway run in 2013, and is now at the Playhouse in what Taylor says will be her final time performing the role. The show is based on the life and times of Texas governor Ann Richards, the unlikely Democrat who governed Texas from 1991-1995.
The show begins with Richards delivering a college commencement speech at an imaginary university where they introduce her with footage from her 1988 speech at the Democratic National Convention that catapulted her to a national fame. It’s a great way to remind and/or introduce the audience to the legendary woman who said, “Twelve years ago, Barbara Jordan – another Texas woman – Barbara made the keynote address to this convention – and two women in a hundred and sixty years is about par for the course. But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, she just did it backwards and in hi-i-gh heels!” And from there she “hits the gas!” The next two hours are spent quite literally with Governor Ann Richards, as Taylor gives a tour de force performance of the legendary force of nature.
The first half of the show takes us from her hard-scrabble upbringing in Lakeview, Texas, with anecdotes about her adoring father and her critical, strong mother to her marriage at 19 and her years as a Texas housewife to her civil rights attorney husband and their four children. Politics wasn’t on her radar even as she worked to recruit and campaign for some women running for local office. But when their politico friends came over one day to persuade her husband to run for county commissioner and he declined, someone in the room said, “well Ann – why don’t you run?” With her so called “Republican hair”, her lack of experience, the fact that she was a Democrat in a very red state and a recovering alcoholic – unlikely doesn’t begin to describe her political prospects in Texas. But there was something about Ann. Her authenticity cut through and she won that race, then was elected state treasurer and eventually became governor of the great state of Texas.
The next part of the play shows Richards in her governor’s office, fielding calls and masterfully multi-tasking everything from organizing her family vacation and ordering cowboy boots for her entire staff to discussing ordering a stay of execution, trying to get her beleaguered speechwriter on the phone while fielding calls from none other than President Bill Clinton (the phone calls between them are fascinating and hilarious). There were titters of recognition in the audience as she pinned the frayed fringe on her office Texas flag while on the phone playing peacemaker between her grown kids. It’s a small, breathtaking glimpse into a day in the life of Governor Richards and it’s exhausting and exhilarating to watch!
The play is beautifully written, as if Richards had just spoken it into existence, and is one long orchid letter about the Governor. She was a loyal friend and a fierce defender of democracy who lit up every room she entered. Much like Richards herself, the play is not partisan, or even very political. It’s about a woman who fell into public service and found her calling. Richards was larger than life with a big, booming voice and seemingly endless energy. Taylor channels this in every gesture, every moment on stage and she is more than up to the Herculean task of bringing the late governor to brilliant, explosive light.
Taylor was already rehearsing “Ann” when the pandemic shuttered theatres and I’m just so grateful she and the Playhouse persevered and brought it to us now. I think it resonates even more today than it would have two years ago. It is utterly refreshing and inspiring to listen to someone who speaks it plain – about life as it should and could be. Richards famously said “life isn’t fair but government must be.”
Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through April 24.
Tickets: $30 and up
Contact: (626) 356-7529 or pasadenaplayhouse.org
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (includes one 15-minute intermission)