Review: ‘Ann’ is playful and fun, but lacks her trademark grit

As a post-thespian and lifelong theatre geek, I have seen my fair share of shows at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I’ve been regaled by the stylings of opera, the symphony, straight plays and musicals, but last night’s production of Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards was my very first KC one-woman show. Lindsay and I were thrilled to be invited by the Kennedy Center to see Ann and review it here on Broads of the Beltway. The entire production was the brain child of Two and a Half Men’s Holland Taylor, who wrote, directed, starred in and produced the piece. Since a comped ticket is my sole opportunity to wriggle my way into the orchestra seating section, I was excited to have such an intimate view of Taylor’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Texas’ fierce, funny former Governor. Still, even as I relished the richness of Taylor’s performance on stage, I couldn’t help but wonder if placing Ann Richards alone in her own life story robbed it of its nuance and depth.

It is true that the authorial bias regarding Ms. Richards is present even in the play’s title – it is very much an ‘affectionate portrait.’ And often – surely due to Taylor’s skill and Richards’ spunk – the affection works. It is tough not to like a gritty, heartfelt and progressive political underdog like Richards, especially given her triumph over a tumultuous personal past. As a liberal feminist, I admire the hell out of a lady so outspoken about issues like gun control and abortion rights, who still managed to climb to the top of a state like Texas. I’d elect one of her freaking nose hairs before I’d vote for an assy buffoon like Rick Perry.

Indeed, it is easy to read into the nostalgic tone of political biopics and theatrical showcases – most of them seem to be nudging the audience toward a better alternative to modern folly. I am sure that Taylor – like many of us – adores the idea of electing strong, liberal ladies with enough tenacity to bulldoze the Tea Party. So, why can’t we? And when we do – like in 1991 Texas – why the hell can’t we keep them in office? After all, Richards was only a one-term Governor. She lost her re-election bid to a well-known dud who went on to become the worst President in American history. What the eff happened, y’all?

The show largely glosses over Richards’ political obstacles, and chooses instead to depict Richards’ tenure as governor as a blizzard of phone calls. The audience surely accepts that Richards is damn busy. The poor woman even had to wait until the end of Act I to pee! All the same, pinning her in an office for so long as she plows through phone calls we can’t hear, and an off-stage assistant that we can, somehow had the effect of diminishing Richards’ efficacy and mystique. Richards was renowned for her magic way with people – I felt a bit cheated out of watching it.

In 2012, the most compelling, tragic and instructive aspect of a story like Richards’ lies not in her unusual political success. In can instead be found in her ultimate, all too common defeat. Richards is incredibly impressive, but a robust and individual female in high office ought not to be such a spectacular cultural anomaly that we dedicate plays to them. Therein lies the real problem of conceiving Richards’ life as a one-woman show – you can’t have politics without other people. It is that very challenge – the need to balance millions of opinions and interests, and how that pressure erodes our leaders – that makes it so we can’t have nice things like Ms. Richards. Here was a sensible, brave, promising female politician who, despite major accomplishments and credentials, never won a majority vote. I wanted to see a play about that. Why wasn’t Richards’ unique charm, charisma and brains enough? Why is fearless critical thought such a freaking deal-breaker in this country? Isn’t that a more intriguing question than, “wasn’t Ann Richards awesome?” And as mesmerizing as Taylor (and Richards herself) may have been, you need to look to others to analyze that question. You can’t have politics in a vacuum with just one person. If you could, it would be easy.

Ann leaves us with a character sketch – a perfectly capable piece of representative art that left at least one blogger wanting slightly more. I wish I could have seen our heroine interact with others. No matter how dazzling Taylor or her character may have been, there is so much more to Ann Richards’ story than a woman all alone on a stage.

Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards will be performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through January 15. If you are between 18 – 30, discounted tickets are available through The MyTix program for many Kennedy Center programs.

– A “will review plays for tickets” Natalie

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

2 Responses to “Review: ‘Ann’ is playful and fun, but lacks her trademark grit”

  1. Is it just me or do I detect a trace of your political leanings in this review?

  2. Does the Texan have any thoughts about this? Just curious.

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