May 1, 2011

Coming Soon: Ann

The old adage is true. Everything is bigger in Texas. And as a result, we Texans tend to admire the larger varieties in life. Longhorn steers, expansive ranches, and ten-gallon hats... (giggling) Just kidding. We aren't that clich├ęd, folks. But one thing we do seem to identify with are the big and iconic personalities. Our state has produced a long line of characters: from athletes, to entertainers and even politicians. But please don't judge us as the land where Dubya came from. Ask around, and you'll find that one of the most beloved figures here is another former governor, the late Ann Richards. I've heard countless stories of her attending shows and films at The Paramount Theatre before she passed, and now she is the subject of a one-woman show by Holland Taylor entitled Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards.

Richards was tough, smart, sassy, savvy and charismatic. After a career as an educator, Ann climbed the political ladder from humble beginnings. She was seated as the state's treasurer when asked to make a speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Although Michael Dukakis was the man of the hour as the Presidential nominee that year, the breakout star for the Party was this sly and affable Southern lady. Still known for her remark on Republican nominee George H.W. Bush during her speech, Ann quipped that he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." That speech catapulted her to fame, and she rode it into the governor's office. In 1990, Richards became just the second female governor of Texas, and the first elected to the position.

Although ultimately a one-term governor (defeated in her re-election bid by George W. Bush in the sweeping 1994 Republican election victories), Ann still placed her stamp upon Texas. She tirelessly advocated financial responsibility and economic growth, and also helped spur funding for education by initiating the Texas Lottery in 1992. Even after her term, she continued campaigning for the issues and platforms she believed in, never faltering in inspiring leadership amongst women. I won't tire your eyes with an ad nauseam list of accomplishments, but suffice it to say that the grand old lady was as strong as she was witty. Pity we are now stuck with the likes of Sarah Palin, because Ann was a real leader.

With regard to the former governor's credentials, you may be wondering who the heck can possibly fill the shoes of Ann Richards and hope to portray her onstage? Well, there is one who not only dares... but succeeds. Emmy award-winning actress Holland Taylor is perhaps best known for playing Charlie Sheen's mother on the show "Two and a Half Men," and has the chops to capture the soul of Ann. Besides, if she could tolerate ol' Mr. Tiger Blood Adonis himself, Holland has to be forged of steel herself. A veteran of the theater since the 1960s, Taylor has graced many Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. Skilled in both comedy and drama, she also made the leap into television and film. First noted for her role in the 1980s sitcom "Bosom Buddies" with Tom Hanks, she has parlayed that recognition with roles in "The Lot," "Ally McBeal," "The Practice," "ER," and "Monk."

Over the last few years, Taylor spent her spare time working on this play about Governor Richards, and has appeared in different venues throughout Texas. She's demonstrated the conviction and courage of Governor Richards with her commitment before ever stepping foot on stage. But it's a gamble that appears to have paid off, since the actress has enjoyed wide acclaim for this performance. Forget Sheen, people. Holland Taylor is winning.

This marks Taylor's first appearance of the play in Austin, and it's fitting that her show surfaces at The Paramount Theatre, where Richards herself spent so much of her time. Ann promises to be a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life persona. But, hey, we're in Texas. That's just how we like it.

The final show of the 2010/2011 Paramount Season, Holland Taylor as Ann is performed Wednesday, May 4th through Friday May 6th at 8:00 p.m. There are shows also on: Saturday, May 7th at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, May 8th at 2:00 p.m. Come celebrate a Texan icon and see another fine season ride off into the sunset.