Living well is the best revenge. But having that life portrayed on stage for all to see and reflect upon is almost as good.
Holland Taylor, probably best known to most of America for playing the wise-cracking mother of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men is reliving the exceedingly colorful and eventful life of former Gov. Ann Richards of Texas nightly on stage in New York City.
She’s the star and author of Ann, a one-woman show that opened on Broadway this month to rave notices for Taylor. I caught up with the play earlier this week, a performance that also happened to be attended by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, the former secretary of state.
(But wait, there’s more: Seated next to the Clintons were the actress Meryl Streep and her husband, the sculptor Don Gummer. Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband, the former astronaut Mark Kelly, also caught the same performance.)
That Ms. Taylor managed to keep the audience’s attention on herself throughout the performance was both a testament to her skill and to the potent power of Richards’ life and legacy. It didn’t hurt that three times during the show, Richards gets on the phone to chat with Bill Clinton, including once to chide him for sending her a crossword puzzle he had done in ink. The audience roared knowingly every time.
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Ann Richards came to the attention of most of us in 1988, when as the white-haired, 54-year-old state treasurer of Texas she delivered the keynote address at the Democratic national convention. Her wit and no-nonsense style were instantly apparent, as evidenced by one of her most memorable lines, which resonated with women everywhere: "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did — she just did it backwards and in high heels."
Richards had sass and brass. A divorced mother of four, recovering alcoholic and former junior high school teacher, she was a plain-talking, charismatic liberal who believed in racial equality, feminism, abortion rights, prison reform, gun control and plenty more that one doesn’t always associate with Lone Star state politics. She was elected governor in 1990 and served one term before losing her bid for re-election in 1994 to a rising politician and fellow recovering alcoholic named George W. Bush. She spent her remaining years serving on boards, writing books, lecturing and working as a public relations strategist before dying of esophageal cancer in 2006 at age 73.
Richards believed strongly that we, the people, should have a say in how our country is run — and the best way to do that, she said, was to get involved. She wanted people of all colors and backgrounds to vote, sign petitions, lobby for bills, contend for office and otherwise be part of our democratic process.
It’s stirring stuff. Watching as Taylor delivers Richards’s best lines and depicts her fighting the good fight, a 50-plus theater-goer can’t help but be inspired. It'll no doubt make you reflect upon you own life and question what you’ve achieved, whether you’ve done enough and think about how you could do more.
This is always the case with one-person shows that depict a well-known life. In the past several years on Broadway (and on tour elsewhere in the country), both Vanessa Redgrave and Carrie Fisher have appeared in one-woman shows. The Oscar-winning English actress portrayed author Joan Didion in a stage adaptation of the writer’s 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, which was about the double whammy of the death of Didion’s husband and daughter within a year of each other. Star Wars’ Fisher turned into comic gold the heartbreak of her Hollywood childhood — the 1959 divorce of her parents, movie star Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, who ditched Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor — and subsequent, ongoing battles with addiction and mental illness.
Even Star Trek’s William Shatner brought his life story to Broadway. He starred last year in Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It … , a limited-run production that won praise from a New York Times theater critic, who called the show a “chatty, digressive and often amusing tour of his unusual acting career.” Who knew that the Priceline spokesman was Canadian and started his career as an understudy to Christopher Plummer in Henry V at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival?
All of these celebrated one-person shows, and now Ann too, serve a dual purpose. They let us glimpse celebrated lives from the inside even as they provide us with a measuring stick against which to evaluate our own lives and take inspiration.
From now on, before making any major decision, consider asking yourself, “Would I want Broadway audiences to see me doing this in my one-person show?”
Should you be inspired to catch Taylor in Ann, the show runs through June 9. Tickets are available by clicking here.
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