Written by Holland Taylor, Ann reprises the life of Ann Richards, the silver-haired, straight-shooting Democrat who wowed listeners at the 1988 Democratic National Convention as the keynote speaker—and then went on to be the first female governor of Texas elected in her own right (the actual first, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, pitched herself as “two governors for the price of one” along with her husband, a former Texas governor himself).
The play begins with Richards speaking at a high school graduation, which is the perfect setup for looking back on a colorful (but not sugarcoated) life. Played by the superlative Sally Edmundson, you really do feel like you are looking at a resurrected Ann Richards in her power suit and scarf, armed with wit and wisdom delivered in that signature Texas twang. Undoubtedly, the two hardest things to do on the stage are 1) play an iconic figure that everyone thinks they already know, and 2) perform a one-person show, with nobody to fall back on. With Edmundson, this play succeeds on both counts.
Richards tells her audience early in the show, “I have a lot of opinions.” Luckily, they are interesting opinions, and I appreciated how the playwright weaved in so many salient aspects of Richards’ life story. For instance, she was raised in Lakeview (near Waco) by a mother who could never be pleased, although Richards did have a father who, as she grew up, “told me I was really smart so often that I really believed it.” Eventually, she went to Baylor and became a wife and mother. It is easy to forget that the energetic Richards had four children before she became a force in Democratic politics.
We also learn about some of the challenges in Richards life, including an intervention for alcoholism staged by her friends, many of whom, she wryly points out, had been drinking with her all along. She also discusses the dissolution of her marriage to Daniel Richards, a civil rights lawyer, but without rancor or bitterness—just a world-weariness conveying the truth that sometimes, things just don’t work out. I also loved the inclusion of Richards’ memorable aphorisms such as “If we rest, we rust.” As for her heartaches and disappointments: “Work was the best antidote by far.”
One of the most interesting parts of Stages’ Ann is the fishbowl view of the governor’s office, with phone calls, chaos, and a clear view of how Gov. Richards juggled family connections, the ups and downs of public office, and political friendships (including with former President Bill Clinton). We learn the importance of “grit,” and how one of her most central beliefs was that no matter what, “you move on.” The one-woman play also touches on a truth universally acknowledged but insufficiently discussed: “It’s very tricky when a woman is funny.” Indeed. The play also reminds us that Texas politics is a “blood sport,” and that from 1991 to 1995, Richards was governor of a state “bigger than France.”
By the end, the most striking line was one in which Richards reveals that she was taught “to be perfect.” Well, no one can do that. But after this stellar dramatization of one of Texas history’s most important women, you do leave thinking that Ann Richards was perfectly herself and grateful that Sally Edmundson could so perfectly bring the governor back to life.
Thru April 8. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.