If you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief over the depths to which political discourse has sunk these days and often wonder what former Texas Gov. Ann Richards would have to say, treat yourself to a ticket to Ann, Holland Taylor’s critically acclaimed one-woman show opening at Zach Theatre on April 6.
Honed to perfection through six drafts and judicious editing, Ann is a spot-on tribute to the iconic Texas governor who famously quipped, “Poor George [H.W. Bush], he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth,” making her the darling of the 1988 Democratic National Convention.
With a run that began in Galveston and included San Antonio, Austin, Chicago, Washington, and 151 days in New York at the prestigious Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, Taylor returns to Austin fresh and feisty as ever. Having played the Paramount in 2011, Taylor knows just how revered Ann Richards was in Texas and especially to Austinites. Beginning with meticulous research, Taylor wrote and has performed the role since 2010, calling it the great achievement of her lifetime. She is well aware of what it takes to bring the Texas dynamo to life night after night.
“So many people were so generous to me and helped me understand what was important in her life,” says Taylor. “Friends, family, colleagues, and her staff — those closest to her — I must have talked to more than 80 people and they all had stories to tell.
“Naturally, I was very sensitive about what their response would be to the play. I was very apprehensive. I spent countless hours with her daughters Ellen and Cecile, and although I knew her sons Clark and Dan less well, they all wrote me sweet letters after they saw the play, beautiful letters that I will always treasure. It meant the world to me. Their stamp of approval gave me great confidence.”
As to what audiences should expect from this latest incarnation of Ann, Taylor says, “It is a very honest portrayal. I am not sugarcoating anything at all. Ann could be hard on people. In the play I didn’t stint. Sometimes it is funny to see someone tear someone a new asshole, and she was the master of a tart tongue. She did not suffer fools gladly and there is great entertainment value in her style and intelligent sense of humor. Many of the quips I have written ‘in the style of.’ Many of them just came to me. I don’t include the cliche things everyone knows. What would be interesting in that?”
The role is grueling, requiring a three-hour prep each evening. Wearing a platinum white wig that reportedly cost $12,000, a body suit, custom tailored suits, and makeup that changes the shape of her lips, Taylor physically, mentally, and vocally prepares to step on stage each night ready to take on the world.
“I come on with a tremendous amount of energy. As the keynote speech begins the play, I have this image of an old 18-wheeler. I crank up the big truck and get it moving up the rise onto the highway and start pumping the gas. When I step onto the stage it starts to roll on its own and from that point on there is no stopping it.”
Much like the hard-charging governor she plays, Taylor gives it her all in every performance. As Charles Isherwood said in his New York Times review, “Ms. Taylor’s lively, funny, humane Ann Richards looks mighty formidable.”
As Taylor affords “this beloved dame one more chance to bask in the spotlight,” audiences — and especially Austin politicos — will once again witness exactly what Ann would say and perhaps find the courage to follow suit.
Ann runs April 6 through May 15 at Zach Theatre.