THE BASICS: ANN, a play by Holland Taylor, directed by Lara D. Haberberger, presented by the Brazen Faced Varlets, starring Priscilla Young Anker as Ann Richards, opened on January 27 and runs through February 11, Fridays – Saturdays at 7:30 at the Alleyway Theatre’s Cabaret Space, 1 Curtain Up Alley (between Pearl and Main north of Shea’s). 716-852-2600 alleyway.com
Runtime: About 2 hours with intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: “Tough as nails, funny as hell” ANN is a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all portrait of Ann Richards, the legendary late Democratic Governor of Texas (1991-1995) who said, “I’m not afraid to shake up the system, and the government needs more shaking up than any other system I know.” This one-woman show is structured as a speech to a group of students, encouraging them to get involved in life by getting involved in politics. Then we go into Richard’s office to see her in her day-to-day life as governor.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
Playwright Holland Taylor is known to many for her role as Evelyn Harper (Charlie and Alan’s mother) in the TV sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” She started working on the play (then titled MONEY, MARBLES, AND CHALK) in 2009; then, with revisions, it went to the Kennedy Center in 2011; then after more revisions on to Broadway in 2013.
Governor Ann Richards’ daughter, Cecile Richards has written that “In ANN, Holland has mastered what many comedians, politicians, and writers have attempted for years – she found the voice of Ann Richards. Holland researched every word, speech, and interview that Ann Richards ever wrote or spoke… Books have been written, documentaries made, but nothing truly captures the life of my mother like ANN.” And Cecile Richards should know.
Now, when I write “warts and all” it’s true. Ann Richards was funny, more so if you were a Democrat, but she was also a hard taskmaster and would make staff members cry. And she was an alcoholic, could be impossibly demanding, and her life was a little chaotic. But she had that “special sauce” that could get other women elected to office and indeed herself to the highest elected office in Texas, if only for one term.
Priscilla Young Anker is superb in the title role. She has comic timing and really looks the part, especially after donning the white hair wig. She drops a famous Ann Richards line: “I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don’t have any.” Anker’s an old pro at this acting thing so you can relax and just let the story take you.
I have to admit, I have always conflated Ann Richards the Texas politician with Molly Ivins the Texas journalist. They were born only a year apart, both struggled with making it in a man’s world, struggled with alcoholism, both leaned left politically, and both had a wonderful way with a phrase. Ivins coined the nickname “Shrub” for George W. Bush and it was Richards who said of the same: “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
So, I learned something and I’m glad that I went to see this Brazen-Faced Varlets production. The BFV are sometimes referred to a Buffalo’s feminist theater company. Their Mission “is to produce consequential works with strong artistic integrity while being committed to promoting the growth of female theater artists. We seek to break out of the traditional and stereotypical gender roles onstage and behind the scenes. Our work is for everybody as we strive to challenge, to provoke, and to delight our audiences.”
And the Varlets are true to their mission with ANN, a 100% female production, from Writer to Director to Star, to Production Manager (Leyla Gentil), Stage Manager (Ellen C. Scherer-Flanck), Sound Designer and off-stage voice of Richard’s secretary “Nancy” (Stefanie Warnick); Costume Designer (Corey Gorski), Prop Construction (Heather Fangsrud), and Social Media/Community Outreach Coordinator (Rachel Parrino).
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!