TheatreSquared presented a witty and powerful one-woman show honoring the legacy of a former Texas governor, loaded with great comedic writing and plenty of inspiring monologues.
Holland Taylor’s critically acclaimed “Ann” tells the partially-fictionalized story of Ann Richards’s ascent from devoted housewife and background campaign strategist to political powerhouse in her own right.
In a success story that was never supposed to be, the divorced Democrat, feminist and recovering alcoholic was elected as the second female governor of conservative Texas in 1990. The first woman to hold the position, Miriam Ferguson, became governor after her husband was impeached and removed from office on corruption charges.
Richards, who died in 2006, was known as a larger-than-life political character. The feminist icon and ally of some of the nation’s most influential Democrats was famous for her brashness, wit and refusal to be politically correct. She was both adored and reviled for her often-raunchy one-liners and comedic stunts such as saying that George H.W. Bush was “born with a silver foot in his mouth,” and attending a party dressed as a giant tampon.
Taylor’s play, which is set over the course of three different time periods in Richards’s career, combines real quotes and anecdotes from Richards’ life with fictionalized scenarios.
The play’s action is moved along through speeches to and phone conversations with offstage characters such as graduating university students and Richards’s children. Richards’s direct interaction with the audience, and the intimacy of the small Spring Theatre in which “Ann'' is performed, allow the audience to be the show’s second character. This, I think, is how a one-person show should be.
Taylor’s writing manages to be both imaginative and faithful to the truth of its subject. Like Richards’s own sense of humor, Taylor’s comedic writing is clever, quick, irreverent and wholly delightful.
Sally Edmundson, making her TheatreSquared debut as the show’s only character, was just as sharp as the writing, carrying off each hilarious one-liner and inspirational soliloquy beautifully. Her soothing, honey-like southern drawl and exaggerated mannerisms were spot on.
It can be easy to lose interest in a one-person show as there is not a diverse cast of characters to keep you drawn in, but that was not the case here. Edmundson’s Richards was consistently engaging and utterly delightful. Clearly well-rehearsed and comfortable embodying Richards’s essence, Edmundson did her real-life namesake justice.
Edmundson’s solid acting was well-supported by the costume design team of costume designer Jennifer McClory and wig designer Ryan Page Devenport. Davenport did an excellent job of capturing Richards’ signature over-the-top hairstyle with the voluminous white wig he designed. Because Richards’s hair was iconic and often discussed in the press, with one columnist describing it as “Republican hair,” the wig is an important element of the play.
The equally bright-white suit McClory designed for Edmundson complemented the wig well, creating a look reminiscent of a business-formal angel. This soft look made for an interesting juxtaposition with the character's bawdy comedic style.
With great writing, beautiful aesthetics and an actress with real star power, "Ann" at TheatreSquared is a refreshing, fun and heartwarming watch. It is a lovely tribute to a complicated, captivating woman who, for better or for worse, left a permanent mark on U.S. politics.
Beyond the humor of the play, its examination of the way the real-life Richards dedicated her life to public service is inspiring. In a day and age where public trust in the government is near all-time lows, it is nice to be reminded of a politician whose philosophy could be easily summed up with a quote from the play: "Why should your life be just about you?"
“Ann” Runs through March 29 at TheatreSquared on Spring Street. Tickets start at $18. There are 30 tickets reserved for $10 for each show for students or people under 30.