Holland Taylor’s theatrical take on the late Ann Richards is, she says, not political.
“The play is not about politics, it’s not about women, it’s not about Texas,” said the playwright and star of “Ann,” a one-woman show that debuts Saturday at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater and runs through Jan. 15. “It’s about a persona, it’s about a person who lived life full out, money, marbles and chalk, all in.”
Richards rocketed to fame at the 1988 Democratic National Convention after a keynote address in which she employed derisive humor about her fellow Texan and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. She later served one term as governor of the Lone Star State.
“I was very aware of her when she got elected governor because it was such an astonishing feat,” Taylor said. “And she also took such a beautiful picture: amazing white hair, woman in a white suit walking on her archway of sorts to her inauguration.”
Taylor, who has also played first lady Nancy Reagan in an acting career that spans four decades, began her three-year journey into researching Richards’ life after the politician’s death in 2006, believing that the only way to capture the person she had met just once would be through a stage play.
“I [was] sad for the country because we lost a voice we needed to have and we lost an inspiring figure that women needed to have, and also, she was having the time of her life,” Taylor said. “You know, if I were a painter I would have painted a picture of her. If I were a composer I would have composed a piece of music for her. So as an actor I thought, ‘Well, I have to play her.’”
Taylor met with close friends and members of Richards’ administration — and anyone else she could find who offered information. The actress also sifted through Richards’ personal papers, film clips and news archives.
“She didn’t forget why she was in office. I think in this day and age it is very hard in this city, which is so insular, this city is like Hollywood, it is a one-industry town,” Taylor said. “And everybody sucks up to the politicians, and they have such a free pass on everything that I think it is a challenge to a lot of them not to get caught up in that aspect of it.”
The play first debuted in Texas, which seems fitting. But Taylor, a born-and-bread Pennsylvanian, was at first intimidated by the idea until she realized that playing Richards in her own environment was the kind of risk that her character would have taken.
To convey the idea that the play is about big themes, Taylor shared a story from the opening shows in Texas, when a 20-year-old nephew of a contributor to the play came to see it.
“He saw the play and everyone was very excitedly gathering back at the hotel afterward, and they said, ‘Well, we will get you a room,’ and he said, ‘I’m not staying, I have to drive. I’m going to get in my truck and drive. I’m going to think about my life,’” Taylor said. “A young boy, never heard of Ann Richards, inspired. Frankly, I always knew it would be like that.”
Taylor’s passion for the former governor is evident in the words she carefully chooses to describe her. In the end, she hopes that others will find the inspiration that she does from Richards and that the audience will walk away with new perspectives on their lives regardless of whether they are in politics.
“They will be uplifted, they will be comforted in that things will be all right, they will be emboldened to find the potential they don’t even know they have,” Taylor said. “And they will laugh their asses off.”