'Ann' review: Richards bio needs more sass

Holland Taylor as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards Holland Taylor as former Texas Gov. Ann Richards during a performance of "Ann." Photo Credit: AP

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REVIEW

As anyone knows whose life overlapped with Ann Richards' career -- and shares her liberal/progressive politics -- the poor-born Texan was obviously a crackerjack individual and a pioneering powerhouse for women.

And according to "Ann," the solo play by and starring Holland Taylor, the boundary-breaking one-term governor of Texas really did have that famous, frisky sense of humor. She always found time to smooth out squabbles between her four grown kids. She was tough and demanding with her staff, but also fair and generous. Bill Clinton, who was president during her 1991-95 heyday, always returned her calls.

Taylor, the Emmy-winning TV actress and exemplary force for feistiness, spent four years researching "Ann," her first -- and she vows -- her last play. The actress has the droll and the drawl down as pat as the look. She wears Richards' boxy white suit topped with matching white cotton-candy hair -- what the late columnist and fellow feisty Texan, the late columnist Molly Ivins, called her Republican hair.

This is an expert impersonation and labor of biographical love. I'd call it a hagiography, if the "hag" part didn't sound insulting to women.

What "Ann" does not have, alas, is conflict, tension or even an unusual form to complement the unexpected arc of Richards' unusual life.

This is an old-fashioned, straightforward solo bio that feels especially lulling in the Beaumont, where the Lincoln Center Theater has staged so many important adventures. ("Ann" is a rental, not an LCT production, brought in when, according to official reports, "War Horse" closed earlier than expected.)

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We first meet Richards as she is delivering a commencement address. Director Benjamin Endsley Klein and set designer Michael Fagin work in photos from her youth that make us appreciate how far Richards traveled.

Then we watch her at her desk in her wood-trimmed office, dogged as a high-functioning terrier as she juggles phone calls, stands up for her concealed-weapons veto, ponders the effect of the execution stay she is about to give to a disturbed murderer. Audiences at Tuesday's preview actually applauded her declarations.

Even her defeat by George W. Bush and her cancer, which killed her at 73 in 2006, do not sour her gusto for a fairer government. The production, which already toured Texas, Chicago and Washington, feels primed to get out there on the road again. A "fresh from Broadway" label can't hurt the marketing. Otherwise, this trip does not feel necessary.


WHAT "Ann"

WHERE Lincoln Center Theater

@Newsday

INFO $75-$125; 212-239-6200; theannrichardsplay.com

BOTTOM LINE Old-fashioned bio, loving but not surprising

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