The ‘Ann’ Who Took Your Gun By Isa Goldberg
Homespun wisdom, a maternal air, a Texas accent, alcoholism and a famous life in politics, – sounds like the stuff of self help manuals and one-person shows. ANN, about the liberal leaning democratic Governor of the Lone Star state, is a loosely woven biography of Ann Richards. And it marks Holland Taylor’s writing debut on Broadway.
Fortunately, Taylor’s deft physical and psychological portrayal overshadows the banality of the bio-drama she has written. While the play is anecdotal and intimate, there is little arch to the central and sole character. Nor is there much dramatic tension during the two hours in which the now retired governor shares her life and her office with an audience of graduating seniors from an unnamed Texas college. Along with those devoted students, the audience learns that she came from humble means, but discovered greatness early in life strutting by her 6’4" father’s side. After a while the anecdotes become trivializing.
Playwright Holland Taylor creates an Ann who brings the smarts and natural charisma that she carried throughout her personal life to her political career. As the Texas treasurer who made strong economic gains for her state, Richards was called to speak at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta. That speech projected on a screen, opens the play. Of course, the tale brings to mind similar success stories of presidential politics. Evoking familiar themes is the play’s strength as well as its weakness. On stage, as in life, too much familiarity and too little mystery lead to a yawn.
The one political issue that Taylor’s Ann speaks to and that is piercingly poignant is her opposition to the concealed weapons law, later signed in by her successor, Governor George W. Bush. As she tells us, "More guns in people’s pockets meant more people dead."
Still, what keeps the show alive is Taylor’s invoking of Richards’ physical life. More than just her white "Republican hair" (wig master Paul Huntley), Taylor captures the moves of the spritely septuagenarian – the stiff arthritic joints of a once knobby-kneed basketball player, her expansive arms holding out a big heart, extending in our direction and heavenwards, while her mouth puckers from dryness- a sign of age and nerves that is overshadowed by her feisty personality.
The background music, Vangalis – Chariots of Fire, (a rousing movie score, albeit hackneyed from overuse), underscores the Olympian spirit that Taylor’s Richards radiates. The setting, too, speaks to Ann’s primacy – she stands a lone star on an open stage (designed by Michael Fagin), later transformed as if in a memory to her handsome but simple gubernatorial office. Here we eavesdrop on Ann fighting for a death row pardon and endorsing Texas barbecues and 4th of July parades. In the phone calls from her staff, kids, and ‘Bill’ (President Clinton), we feel the merging of the private person and the public figure. Julie White’s recorded off stage voice as Governor Richard’s secretary is down home – a comfortable sidekick that can’t talk back. Benjamin Endsley Klein’s direction appears unobtrusive, practically transparent.
As for Ms. Richards’ all white suit (designer, Julie Weiss), it matches her hair and her austere reputation. But the glittering star she wears on her jacket grabs the light (Matthew Richards, costume designer) slinging it rodeo style all over the room.
Ann has her moments, and so does this play. Just not enough of them to lasso our attention and really rope us in.