Backwards and in High Heels

“More guns in people’s pockets means more people dead.”  That’s Texas Governor Ann Richards in Holland Taylor’s new play Ann, and it’s straighter talk than we’re used to from our elected officials—even from our uncensorable vice president, who recently advised America’s women to protect themselves by firing double-barreled shotguns into the air.  The line elicited loud cheers at a recent performance I attended and the moment is characteristic of Ms. Taylor’s endearing one woman show about a Southern Democrat unafraid to speak her mind, even if—God forbid—it costs her votes.

Do not be fooled by the “Republican hair.”  Richards was a brash, polarizing figure with a penchant for dirty jokes, a passion for feminism, and an untappable well of Dixie charm.  She was a good old boy without the racism and misogyny, an obvious hero to liberals who find Hillary Clinton too disingenuous and Barack Obama too calculating.  When she tells us, “I just flat never understood racial prejudice,” we don’t suspect the sentiment has been tested and approved by a pack of number crazy advisers.

Ann, framed by a college commencement speech, follows its hero from her roots (“I come from Georgia prison stock”) to her post-political career as a big time consultant in New York City.  Since the stakes are relatively low, we cannot really fault Ms. Taylor for her inevitable turn to hagiography—after all, anyone who pays Broadway prices for this play probably doesn’t need to be converted in the first place.  In a brisk two hours, Richards compliments John Kerry, jokes about incest in Arkansas with Bill Clinton, and says of John Edwards, “That asshole couldn’t organize a circle jerk.”  It’s all quite funny, though not particularly revolutionary.  Ann is not really a political play, anyway, but a light comedy wearing political clothing.  Like Richards herself, it has no cynical core.

Ms. Taylor, who also plays the governor, handles her own material with terrific grace and humor.  Her cheer is infectious, and she always seems to be having at least as much fun as her audience, paying tribute to Richards but never sacrificing a serious moment by excising a good joke.  Explaining her alcoholism, she quips, “Let me just say somethin’ about this drunken deal: I was fun.”

Ann is unlikely to be among the most memorable plays of the season.  But as the sequester deal continues to flounder, snuggling up with Governor Richards proves a warm, entertaining diversion.

Ann runs through June 30th at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.  150 W. 65th Street  New York, NY.  2 hours.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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