With her coiffed “Republican hair” and powder-white suit, Ann Richards tells a graduating class of university students, “Life isn’t fair, but government should be.” A divorced woman, Democrat and recovering alcoholic, Richards was the epitome of a long shot when she ran for governor of Texas in 1990, but as portrayed in actor Holland Taylor’s inspiring new one-woman show, her unflinching demand for fairness in politics made her a figure the entire country could get behind.
The commencement bookends the piece, chronicling Richards’s history from her childhood during the Depression to her career at the state Capitol and beyond. The speech is broken up by an extended glimpse into the governor’s daily routine, showing a demanding, sometimes abrasive executive. Taylor’s comic biography reveals a woman with a fearless attitude and trailblazing spirit, who understands the limits of what government can do but refuses to be bound by them.
The play’s momentum drops in the second act once Richards leaves office, and the running time could easily be clipped to two hours by keeping the focus on the conflict-heavy parts of Richards’s life. As inspirational as the play’s conclusion is, the governor loses some of her edge by the end.
Taylor’s Richards says the best politicians connect with people and make them feel important, and when she winks at the crowd or cleans her fingernails onstage, she invites her listeners to get as comfortable as she is. Taylor flawlessly captures the Southern charm and bawdy sense of humor that made Richards an immediately likable and captivating politician.