Holland Taylor paints a portrait of the feisty Gov. Ann Richards in one-woman show
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 9, 2011 5:56PM
Veteran actress Holland Taylor (pictured earlier this year in Chicago) says that writing and starring in “Ann” “... has expanded me and changed my life and my career. I’m a pretty solitary and melancholy person, but I now get to be gregarious and outgoing
† Nov. 13-Dec. 4
† Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe
† Tickets, $20-$85
† (800) 775-2000;
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:31AM
So much has happened on the U.S. political scene since the summer of 1988 — when Ann Richards, then Texas state treasurer, made her attention-getting keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta — that her memorable moment in the spotlight might seem like ancient history.
Yet devoted politicos probably can’t forget how that supremely confident “good ole gal” with the deep Texas drawl aimed her barbed tongue at the incumbent Reagan administration, and took a particularly deep bite into his running mate, George H. W. Bush (whose son would later defeat her in her re-election campaign for Texas governor and then, of course, move on to the White House). Richards’ famous line — “Poor George, he can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth” — brought down the house in much the same way that her political opposite, Sarah Palin, would do 20 years later with her quip about lipstick being the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull.
But it was not Richards’ flashy convention keynote that got Emmy Award-winning actress Holland Taylor started on “Ann,” her self-penned, one-woman show, directed by Benjamin Klein, that she has tested in earlier versions at both the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, Texas, and Austin’s Paramount Theatre, and which will now have its pre-Broadway engagement at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre.
“I was just thunderstruck when I heard the news of Ann Richards’ death,” said Taylor. “That was in September of 2006, and she was 73. I had only met her once, about five or six years earlier, at a lunch at Le Cirque with our mutual friend, Liz Smith [the Texas-bred gossip columnist of the New York Daily News], but I’d seen her interviewed many times on ‘The Larry King Show.’ She was such a big presence in New York circles at that time. And even at 70, she was pretty, with a dazzling smile and the bluest of blue eyes that really looked straight at you, as if you were the only person in the room.
“As soon as I heard that she’d died I got this creative vision, and within 15 minutes I was overwhelmed with ideas for a scenario,” said Taylor, who subsequently did three years of intensive research and interviewing to get to know her subject. “And while I’d prefer not to divulge too much about the shape of the show, it is in 1993 [so she’s governor], and it’s a day-in-the-life in her office. There are a number of phone calls from her children and others, as well as a couple of offstage voices, including that of her invaluable executive secretary, on tape. We’re also using some interesting projections.”
“The one thing I can tell you is that this is not just a rug-and-chair kind of one-person production. It’s a real play in which I have a tremendous relationship with the audience.”
Taylor also was quite clear that “Ann” sidesteps politics in most ways, “although she does give a pro-choice quote to a reporter during a phone interview.”
Nevertheless, Richards was fervently political. She taught social studies in a Texas junior high school in the 1950s, but grew into an experienced political worker for liberal Democratic candidates by the 1970s. When she was elected treasurer of Texas in 1982 it marked the first time in 50 years that a woman was elected to statewide office there. And though she served only one term (1991-95) as governor, she is credited with revitalizing the state’s economy, reforming its prison system, making school funding more equitable, and shaping what she called the “New Texas” by appointing more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors.
“Mostly this show is a real quest to understand Ann Richards’ potency,” said Taylor. “I’d never written anything before this, and will never do it again — it’s such a lonely process — but I do know how a play works. And I wanted to look at what was important to this woman near the end of her life — the dissolution of her marriage, her drinking problem (which she dealt with), the rigors of campaigning, and her two sons and two daughters, who I’ve met and talked to.”
As for the Philadelphia-born Taylor herself, she is a sparkling, foxy woman of 68, with a glam patrician bearing and ultra-chic sense of style. Slimmer than Richards, she wears padding under her costume, as well as a wig in the full, bright white Richards style.
Having spent much of her career on the New York stage, the theater is home to Taylor, even if audiences might know her best as as Charlie Sheen’s snobbish, high-powered mom in “Two and a Half Men” or as the sharp-edged Judge Roberta Kittelson in ABC’s “The Practice.”
“Perhaps the reason I’m so good at playing such horrible mothers is that I’m not a mother in real life,” said the actress, who explained that “Sheen’s many problems are clearly the result of having had such great success and wealth as a teenager — before any self-examination could really take place.”
But Taylor’s undivided attention these days is focused on “Ann.”
“This play is a completely unexpected chapter. It is an adventure that has expanded me and changed my life and my career. I’m a pretty solitary and melancholy person, but I now get to be gregarious and outgoing. Ann has taught me to have a party in my life.”