Linda Leonard rocks the house as Ann Richards in Irving Arts’ Ann

It takes a special kind of courage to be a Liberal Progressive Democrat and Governor of Texas, a state known for its preponderance of Bible-Belt, Conservative Republicans, and Ann Richards more than rose to the challenge. Most likely she pole-vaulted. Written by preeminent character actress Holland Taylor, Ann is a one-woman show, depicting the life of the formidable Ann Richards, before and after her election. Similar performances based on historic figures (Truman Capote, Gertrude Stein, Clarence Darrow) run the risk of being primarily anecdotal, which can amount to a one-trick pony and a very long evening. Holland Taylor is savvy enough to treat us to a typical day in Richards’ life as the governor of the Lone Star State. We see Richards at her worst and best, playing referee in a family squabble, laying the groundwork for a stay of execution, buying cowboy boots (on sale) for her staff, and launching into a tirade – all of this over a telephone.

One of the hazards (I would imagine) of writing this piece would be to make Mrs. Richards sympathetic while still making her human enough to feel authentic. Remember we live in a country where it is much easier for a space cadet like Sarah Palin to get traction, than intelligent, tough ladies, like Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton. Being a Texas native it’s easy for me to understand that Richards had to be tough and full of gumption to fight the Texas patriarchy but for Holland Taylor, it couldn’t have been easy. She achieves a very delicate balance of making Richards very strong, but also humble enough to discuss your alcoholism without blinking. She fends off her adversaries with fierce aplomb, but still has time to reassure her granddaughter. All of this without ever stooping to the precious, adorable or icky.

I was bowled over by Linda Kay Leonard’s phenomenal performance last night. Where she found the stamina to deliver Holland Taylor’s brilliant script, filled with moxie, warmth, frankness, rage, hilarity and somber, sobering calls to fight for what’s just, I will never know. But it was a spectacular, delightful, powerful ride. Do not miss this remarkable show.

Stage West Theatre (in cooperation with IAC) presents Ann, playing June 9th-July8th, 2017. Irving Arts Center : 3333 N MacArthur Blvd., Irving, Texas, TX 75062. (972) 252-2787

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