Ann Richards, who died at age 73 in 2006, lives again in all her outspoken, tough, compassionate self as channeled by Holland Taylor, who wrote and acts in the play “Ann” now on Broadway. If you can, run to get your ticket – I have seen the show twice and am raring to go again. If you can’t see it here in New York, find out where it will be going next – first to Texas, of course.
The play is full of Richards’s aphorisms and jokes, the salty comments she was known for, but more importantly her strong feelings about justice and morality. “Life is not fair,” she said. “But government should be.” Those of us who remember this memorable woman with her pouf of bright white hair know her as the person who against all odds became the Governor of Texas in 1991. She was a liberal Democrat in a conservative Republican state, the first woman to achieve the post without coming in on her husband’s coattails. She had acknowledged her battle with alcoholism that sent her to rehab (before that was fashionable, she pointed out in a throwaway line).
The play has Richards telling us the story of her life – her marriage, her four children, the dissolution of her marriage; her first career as a junior high school teacher, which she said inured her to tough challenges; her rise in politics, from County Commissioner, to State Treasurer; the keynote address she gave at the 1988 Democratic convention, which catapulted her into nationwide notice; and then her governorship. As governor she reformed the Texas prison system, brought about economic reforms, fought (unsuccessfully) for ratification of the ERA, and did so much more. Her daughter, Cecile Richards, now president of Planned Parenthood, carried on Ann’s pro-choice efforts; in the play Ann says that the same people who complain about welfare payments to families say “Tsk, tsk, tsk, we're going to make you have more children you can't afford."
The part that won my heart as well as my admiration was the phone call that came in during a particularly hectic day in the Governor’s office. She was frantically busy fielding calls, signing papers, preparing for a speech – but not too busy to take a call from her darling Lily, the grandchild she adored. You could feel her pleasure as she spoke to her and sense the love oozing out of her very being for this child. The play also shows that at her busiest, she was still juggling plans for a fishing trip with her four children – and busily soothing the hurt feelings of one of them. During the talk-back after the play the day I saw it, a single mom said how inspiring it was to see this governor of a major state doing her job – both as political leader and as Mom.