Sally Edmundson as Ann Richards in Ann / Photo by Os Galindo
Here’s what “Ann” – that would-be legendary Texas governor Ann Richards – wants you to know: Politics are about participation.
You have to sign up and vote, even if you don’t get called to service like Richards, who went from junior high teacher to the second-ever female governor of Texas.
She’ll also have you know something else: Politics are a contact sport.
When: Some Tuesdays and every Wednesday – Sunday through March 29
Where: TheatreSquared, Fayetteville
Cost: $17-$58; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-777-7477 or theatre2.org
The inclusion of “Ann” in the TheatreSquared season certainly has a meaning. And the specific timing can’t have been a coincidence, either. “Ann” debuts just two weeks before Arkansans are being asked to vote in the 2020 primary. (You can early vote, too, if that’s your thing).
We can wonder who Ann Richards might have endorsed in the upcoming election. It might have been one of the female candidates – Richards was a noted feminist, and proud of her unlikely election as a Democrat in a deeply Republican state.
But we are also reminded of the cyclical/ceaseless nature of politics. During this one-woman show, our protagonist discusses her stances on capital punishment, immigration and more. Nearly 20 years later, we are not done talking about either nationally.
The show “Ann” was developed and eventually starred in by Holland Taylor. It’s made the rounds since its 2011 debut, including a run on Broadway. It was more recently performed at Stages Theatre in Houston with actress Sally Edmundson in the lead role. That production took place in 2018, but Edmundson returns to the role for the T2 production.
Portraying Ann Richards isn’t easy, and the story captured in “Ann” doesn’t do anyone favors. For a one-woman show, it’s on the long side at two hours. The intermission isn’t likely for the audience members, but for the lead to catch her breath. Beyond the exceptional memory required for the lines, the role also requires comedic timing and a Texas accent. Not southern. Texan.
Edmundson was up for the challenge on Friday (2/21), the opening night of this show. There were a few moments where it appeared Edmundson needed a moment to find her lines. But when this show clicks, as it often did, it’s a force of nature.
Photo courtesy TheatreSquared
Richards was known as a rambunctious, take-no-crap politician who got things done. She was also a recovering alcoholic, divorcee and mother of four, which made her governorship all the more unlikely. The play is divided into three co-equal parts. We find Richards delivering a commencement address at the University of Texas, in her governor’s office and later, in an office in New York City, where she spent her post-governor years as a consultant. The latter third is the least of these parts, and her “this is why you should care about politics” speech feels a little forced. You can think of this part as the Oscar Winning Moment!, the kind of monologue that feels required of important works. The commencement part of the play serves as exposition and establishment for what’s to come. It’s necessary. But it’s hard to not be wowed by the middle third of the show – which captures a day in her life as governor.
Ann’s style was direct, forceful and effective. In a sequence where she does almost nothing but answer the phone or make calls of her own, Edmundson captures the simultaneous brutality and determination of Texas’ governor. Richards berates staffers – she yells at her speechwriter’s answering machine and tells another crying staffer that “I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to do your job.” She talks to the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, as she also fields calls from her own children. She’s sweet as pie, offering to buy boots for her entire staff from a local maker. She’s also salty as the day is long, telling dirty jokes and offering rapid-fire curse words when things don’t go her way. It’s frantic, and it’s thrilling theater. It’s also quite funny, and sometimes shockingly off-kilter. It risks making you want to serve as a wheeling and dealing, fast-talking governor somewhere.
But there’s a risk in that, one that Richards acknowledges as she wraps up our proceedings. She lost her re-election bid to a man named George W. Bush, who went on to become 43rd president of the United States.
It’s not my position to tell you how to vote, although Ann might. So I’ll only offer this: Participate. Vote. Care. And know that if there’s room for Ann, there’s room for you.