Ann Richards

| December 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

One of my fondest political memories is the evening I spent with Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas.  Her daughter Cecile’s family live across the street from me in Washington and Cecile invited me and my wife to dinner with her mother.  It was just the five of us and what a night it was!  I wish I could remember every moment, but I can’t.  Mainly I remember Ann and her daughter ridiculing our Boston accents.  But the strongest impression I came away with was her amazing authenticity.  The Ann Richards at that dinner was exactly the same as the Ann Richards that electrified the Democratic National Convention in 1988, just a little quieter….just a little.

That’s the memory I brought to the performance of Ann last night at the Kennedy Center.  The one woman play was written and performed by Holland Taylor, a very familiar TV character actress.  It was a fantastic experience that not only captured Ann Richards extraordinarily well, but also explored some very important political and social issues that Governor Richard’s life epitomized.

Obviously, the threshold question on a performance of this sort is whether the actor succeeded in representing the character accurately in the way she looked and sounded.  Check.  Ms. Holland mimicked Governor Richards perfectly, which is necessary, but not sufficient, to make this show successful.  Happily, Ms. Holland went way beyond mimicry. She did truly embody Governor Richards, not only in look and sound, but the way she moved and, most importantly, in conveying the passion, humor, confidence and vulnerability of the woman.  I very quickly got past evaluating how much she looked and sounded like Governor Richards and lost myself in the play itself.

In addition to my personal encounters with Governor Richards, I also brought to the play my personal professional experience as a staffer to some high profile political figures.  Much of the play has Governor Richards interacting with her staff in ways that those unfamiliar with this profession might consider bordering on abusive.  Her judgments of her staff are often pretty harsh.   Her speechwriter, “Suzanne” comes under particularly hostile fire.  “Why don’t you just kill me, Suzanne!” she bellows into Suzanne’s voice mail.  One of the things I liked most about this aspect of the play was that these episodes are not sugar coated and the fact that Richards truly loved her staff is communicated subtly, not through some smarmy reconciliation.  But in those moments, I truly identified with those on the receiving end of her rants.

Another major theme of the play is the familiar “work-life” balance challenges that are a significant burden for professional women, particularly in her era.  Watching the Governor switch from intense and compassionate discussions of clemency for a convict whose execution is imminent to who is going to cook the turkey for a family dinner is done totally believably.  Typically, Ann ends up volunteering to cook the turkey.

Finally, as a bonus, much of the play is constructed as a commencement speech.  As it happened I brought my son to the pay.  He will graduate from college in 5 months and I fervently hope he took some of the life lessons that Ann conveyed to heart.  I think he did.  He loved the show, as well.

I highly recommend this intelligent, funny, touching show.  There were moments of uproarious laughter and the final moment literally brought me to tears.  We won’t see her like again, but I hope we have Holland Taylor around for a long time to remind us of this remarkable woman.  Step aside Hal Holbrook!

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