Theater review by David Cote. Vivian Beaumont Theater (see Broadway). By Holland Taylor. Dir. Benjamin Endsley Klein. With Taylor. 2hrs. One intermission.
Okay, we know that everything’s bigger in Texas, but does Ann, a tribute to ex-Lone Star State Governor Ann Richards (1933–2006), really need to be in a Broadway house? The one-woman show—woven from Richards’s speeches, her coworkers’ anecdotes and the author’s affectionate invention—covers a fair amount of its subject’s eventful life and the divisive issues that roiled her single term. But is the piece theatrically ample enough to deserve the Vivian Beaumont?
Yes and no. On the one hand, Taylor is a wonderfully engaging, sparkly presence who wears the role like a second skin. You utterly believe her Richards: a dryly ribald, steel-spined diva of Democratic politics who stepped onto the world stage when she gave the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Whether cracking R-rated jokes about bestiality, or advising President Clinton on a Supreme Court nominee, she’s fully in command, managing multiple pieces of gubernatorial business while juggling allies and underlings on the phone with an alacrity that would make Kushner’s Roy Cohn flush with envy.
But the play around this dynamic performer is uneven: chicken-fried hagiography about Richards’s youth and final years sandwiching a tastier center of office business. We watch her at work, planning a family outing while dealing with a variety of state matters: nuclear waste, immigration and the death penalty. (These bits are lively and informative; 90 minutes of them might have made for a stronger overall vehicle.)
For all the patchiness of the text, Ann is still quite diverting. Just as I’m sure Richards mitigated unpopular compromises with down-home charisma, Taylor’s winning performance helps us ignore her small, shaky platform.—David Cote
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