Review: Holland Taylor Returns to Her Now Legendary Role as a Former Texas Governor in Ann
Taylor's solo show about the life of Ann Richards is now running at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Ann Richards, a former governor of Texas, was a force of nature, a liberal woman in the most macho and conservative of states. A housewife and mother who took a leap of faith and jumped into the political arena, she dazzled as the keynote speaker of the 1988 Democratic Convention and built a career that led to the state Capitol. Writer and actor Holland Taylor pays tribute to the dynamic Richards in Ann, her affectionate solo comedy — in which she showcases her own immense talent.
This production marks the show's West Coast premiere (and Taylor's possible retirement from the role), but Taylor has delighted audiences around the country with this portrayal for years, including a Tony-nominated run in 2013. The Pasadena Playhouse, where Taylor currently performing, is fortunate to land this master class in acting.
Taking on the task of personalizing this iconic woman, Taylor presents audiences with a hectic, but normal day in the life of the governor, where Richards juggles gala dinner speeches, a death-row stay of execution, and motherly duties — all within the confines of a few hours. Utilizing the framework of a university commencement speech, Taylor takes the audience in her confidence, spinning them into active supporting players.
When set in the governor's office, the play balances Richards's daily life with little details: worrying about the feelings of the staff whom she just scolded; keeping her kids from battling over a contentious game of charades; taking out a pin cushion and fixing a frayed flag on display in her office. Though the play could trimmed — the final sequence portraying Richards later in life as a New York power broker adds little and could have been summed up in a few words — it is a loving tribute to a time when Texas was run with intelligence, compassion, and gumption.
Taylor has performed the role so many times that she could probably do it in her sleep. To say she inhabits the role minimizes how seamless her performance is. Even when fumbling a line or two, the audience never doubt this is the usual cadence of a constant thinker. The production doubles down on Taylor's portrayal by showing the real Richards in a television clip of her famous keynote speech. From that, we see how Taylor has captured Richards's Texan drawl, stance, and loquaciousness to a T. With wig designer Paul Huntley and costume designer Julie Weiss, she finesses the look as well.
Director Benjamin Endsley Klein uses a light touch and allows Taylor to command the stage the entire evening. The set by Michael Fagin, an immaculately decorated governor's office, slides out in the middle of Act 1 and illustrates the chaos a governor faces every day.
Though you can watch the Broadway production of Ann online, there's nothing like the exhilaration of watching Taylor in person and sharing the chemistry and artistry with the performer. Both Richards and Taylor are legends, as this production at the Pasadena Playhouse makes crystal clear.