The play opens with video of the real Ann Richards giving the convention speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention where Bill Clinton was formally nominated to be the party’s candidate for president. As Richards explains, that moment “changed my life forever.”
The setting is a lecture hall at a university where she has been asked to give the commencement address. During this portion of the play, Ms. Taylor addresses the audience as though we were the college graduates or their parents. The commencement address has the feel of a roast more than a commencement speech. She even manages to throw in a bawdy joke about beastiality that her father used to tell. Eventually we flash back to her days in the state capital, as a drop rises and the governor’s office slides downstage.
During this portion of the show we see Ms. Richards take multiple phone calls, including a couple from President Bill Clinton. This is a one-woman show, the only other character present is the voice of her assistance Nancy over the intercom (the perfectly droll Julie White).
Taylor portrays the feisty Governor in much the same way we imagine she probably governed; she swears, tells jokes, and even has the humanity to squeeze in time to find gifts for her support staff. She struggles to understand her legal council’s decision (or lack thereof) to a petition for a stay of execution being filed by a death-row inmate. Ms. Taylor’s Richards obviously takes this seriously and gives great weight to the background of the prisoner condemned to die.
Ann presents Governor Richards as a governor of and by the people. She was one of the people, a plain-spoken woman of humble origins. When it was time for her to leave the governor’s mansion in 1995 after losing the seat to George W. Bush, she questioned what she was to do with the rest of her life. She was the first to be surprised at the number of opportunities that came her way.
Richards had a marriage that didn’t last but did produce four children. Ms. Taylor fills her script with plenty of time having her secretary tracking down her children and having phone conversations with them. Unfortunately, these conversations do nothing to compel the story forward. These do the very opposite, they elongate what should be a 90-minute show to a two-hour show.
Ms. Taylor does an exceptional job portraying Governor Richards, however, her Governor at times veers into caricature. Perhaps it was just who Ms. Richards was, a larger than life character. Maybe it was she who was the caricature.
At times, Ann is sluggish and lethargic. But the character alone is a joy to watch. It is also full of funny lines. Perhaps my favorite was her remarking on her own forgetfulness: “…soon I’m gohn’ be able to hide my own Easter eggs.”
What a refreshing thing Ann Richards must have been as a politician. She didn’t go into politics to see what it could do for her, but what she could do for us. This comes through loud and clear in Anne. While this script could have been tightened up, congratulations to Ms. Taylor who colorfully brings Ann Richards to life on stage.
Anne is directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein. Scenic design by Michael Fagin, lighting design by Matthew Richards, costume design by Julie Weiss.