Emmy-winning actor/playwright Holland Taylor has the answer for Pasadenans and Angelenos who are asking themselves, “What was life like before all…this…and is there a way to enjoy it again?” Yes!
Reviewed by Melanie Hooks
Get thee to the Pasadena Playhouse and soak up a masterful performance of Ann, wonderful, witty dialogue, loads of laughter and actual (dare we say it) hope! That hope shines through star and writer Taylor’s one-woman show about the legendary Ann Richards, Governor of Texas in the early 1990s. How did a woman who believes in social programs and community become such a political powerhouse in the famously macho and anti-welfare state? After a couple of hours (and one intermission) spent with Taylor as Ann, the only question remains: how could anyone have stopped her?
Taylor researched Richards exhaustively for three years, becoming a bit obsessed with the real woman’s charisma and drive after a real-life chance meeting years ago in New York City, where Taylor was onstage and Richards was working as a political consultant. Taylor found she couldn’t stop digging into Richard’s voice, history and life. Eventually that research became a play, which came full circle when she took it to stage in New York. She’s traveled the country with it, filmed it for PBS (available on Broadway HD and PBS Passport), and now her seven-year run will conclude with the show over the next three weekends on the Playhouse stage.
Immediate, visceral, complete
Taylor’s presence is immediate, visceral, complete. The show opens with an archival video of Richards giving the keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention, a speech that launched her into the stratosphere of national and upper-level state politics. And yet, she jokes easily, never seeming off-put by the enormity of the moment. Taylor eases right into that same composed spirit — a fascinating blend of homespun humor and matronly wisdom mixed with much grittier spurts of temper and vaulting ambition — not just for herself. Taylor channels Richards’ ambition to help spread courage, courage to stand up to greed and tradition in order to change things that are obviously wrong — seniors living in poverty without medical care, abused children re-enacting horrific cycles of violence, people of all races, creeds and sexuality living without political representation. She is clearly moved by these horrors and spends a great deal of her own political capital trying to help alleviate them, a fact that could well have led to her failed bid for re-election.
Taylor should be commended for continuing to bring palpable energy to this role, as should director Benjamin Endsley Klein for aiding in the reimagining of its staging post-Covid and on the smaller Playhouse stage (apparently Taylor declined the Ahmanson’s offer of a showing partly due to its size). The classic proscenium works wonderfully well with a scrim and vaulted office combination, punctuated for much of the show by a simple chair and lectern (Scenic Design by Michael Fagin). And who can fault that fabulous Texan politician wig by the late Paul Huntley? Classic. As is Taylor — the most spritely 79 year old carrying an entire show on her shoulders that the Playhouse (or Pasadena) is ever likely to see. Truly one for the history books.
Directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein Scenic Design by Michael Fagin Performances through April 24, 2022:: Wed-Sat 8:00 pm Sat/Sun 2:00 pm Tickets begin at $30 at pasadenaplayhouse.org.
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