T2 brings legendary Texas governor to life

T2 brings legendary Texas governor to life

Over the course of decades in the public eye, Texas politician Ann Richards gained nearly mythic status, despite the fact that she served but one term as Texas governor and never held national office. Richards’ countrywide popularity was gained through the sheer force of her personality and amplified during her 1988 Democratic convention speech, when she zinged the Republican presidential candidate George Bush by saying he was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” TheatreSquared’s one-woman production of Holland Taylor’s affectionate tribute to Richards opens this week and helps shed the light on what made Richards such a unique political superstar.

“She’s real,” sums up actor Sally Edmundson, who plays Ann. “What you see is what you get. It’s not just that she gave voice to people who didn’t have one. It’s also that she was a model for what you can achieve, what you can accomplish, if you just believe in yourself and bet on yourself.”

At a rehearsal a week before opening night, Edmundson is not yet wearing the wig that will give her Richards’ iconic, silver, hair-sprayed-within-an-inch-of-its-life updo, and she’s in comfortable soft pants instead of Richards’ customary neat, Chanel-like suits. However, it’s obvious that Edmundson could not be more perfectly cast. She cuts a slim, neat figure on stage, flawlessly capturing the dichotomy that was Richards’ style: hands demurely clasped, standing with beauty pageant-perfect “pretty feet” — the very essence of a proper Southern lady. But when she speaks, what comes out is a witty, bawdy, no-holds-barred comment spoken in an authentic Texas accent that, for emphasis, frequently drawls one-syllable words out to three or four.

The stately set furthers the realistic illusion that we’re in the presence of Richards. Scenic designer Ashleigh Burns’ design reaches nearly to the ceiling, and, in the close quarters of the Spring Theater, makes it feel as though the audience is sitting in a corner of the governor’s office, watching the savvy politician work the phones. This intimate experience, says Edmundson — who performed the role for a 2018 production at Stages Theatre in Houston — is part of what makes the show so special.

“Houston is certainly a very progressive city, but a lot of our patrons lean more to the red,” notes Edmundson. Richards was the last Democratic governor to be elected in Texas. “It was very interesting — we never lost anyone. Almost every night, I would have somebody waiting for me in the lobby — and it took a while, it would be 20 or so minutes [after the show ended]. But they would be waiting for me. And they would have tears in their eyes about how much she meant to them — either they worked with her, they had political connections with her, she had done something for them. Somehow, she had touched their lives, and they would just say, ‘Thank you.’”

But if you’re not as intimately connected to Richards’ career as those theatergoers, no worries, says director Kim McKean: Holland Taylor, who both wrote the one-woman show and starred in its Broadway production, does a fantastic job of incorporating all of Richards’ accomplishments as the script winds its way along the trajectory of her life. It’s quite a ride, watching as she goes from a stay-at-home mother of four to governor of Texas.

“I sort of knew of her as being this fiery, unpredictable, well-respected politician,” says the El Paso-based McKean of her pre-production exposure to Richards. “But I really did not know anything about all of her humanitarian efforts and everything that she did for women and minorities. When I found out about all of that in my research, I was actually quite surprised. For some reason, I knew more about her qualities and less about her work.

“Holland Taylor described Ann as an angel, a general, a mother and a leader. And when you read about her, you can see all of those qualities and this essence in her that made her this whole person, whereas today, I feel like politicians are painted so one-dimensionally,” the director muses. “Seeing this woman find her voice and seeing her power soar and seeing the grace she had for everyone — the more I learned about her, the more inspiring [I found her].”

Despite her popularity and the laundry list of accomplishments during her tenure as governor, Richards only served one term, losing the 1994 gubernatorial election to George W. Bush in a red wave of Republican victories that stretched across the country. She would never seek another elected office, though she never stopped working on behalf of candidates that inspired her politically. In an April 2013 interview with the Texas Politics Project, Richards runs through the progressive political accomplishments made over the past few decades, to which a reporter responded, “You sound satisfied.”

“I’m hardly satisfied,” the feisty Richards snapped back immediately. “I’m outraged most of the time at how the progress seems to stall.”

Edmundson and McKean say that it’s that spirit of never giving up that remains Richards’ most enduring legacy.

“She clearly had a point of view, but she doesn’t care if you disagree — she just cares that you participate,” says Edmundson. “If you’re going to complain, then do something about it — don’t just sit on your duff. It was a calling, a vocation for her.”

“I really feel like she’s the voice of hope,” says McKean. “She inspires us to say, ‘What can we do?’ In the play, she says, ‘The government is not them. It’s you, it’s us.’ So let’s all step up and have a part in it, and be a voice in it, instead of pointing fingers. Let’s be accountable ourselves, too. I feel like that message, today, is just huge.”






WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through March 22

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$55

INFO — 777-7477

Categories: Theater