By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
If you were awake in the 1980’s and 90’s you surely remember Ann Richards, the salty-tongued democratic governor (1990-94) of the red state of Texas! Well, I was privileged to spend about two hours in her delightful and formidable company last night in the intimate Kreeger Theatre at Arena Stage in SW Washington, DC.
Jayne Atkinson, who has recently appeared in leading roles on TV’s “House of Cards” and “Madame Secretary”, brilliantly plays the role of Ann Richards, which the playwright Holland Taylor originated on Broadway. “Jayne seems to be channeling Ann Richards,” I heard someone say. Truly. I remember hanging on Ann’s every word when she was governor and even years before, because of her witty delivery and fascinating stories—especially her zingers about George Bush, her opponent for governor in a losing race for her second term.
Ann told us last night during this absorbing play that she learned her trademark quirky, salty delivery from her father, who apparently was a master storyteller. She said his best stories were extremely off-color, so she couldn’t possibly tell us any (she reiterated this statement several times) but then she did tell one, and it was worth the wait and hilarious!!!
Ann’s life, however, was not entirely a bed of yellow Texas roses. She was a courageous woman who got a good education, married at 19 and, after raising a family of four children and having loved politics her whole life, dove wholeheartedly into public life, even getting divorced in the process. All the while she motivated legions of people to get involved in their local and state politics. She believed that citizens, ALL citizens, should get involved, vote, and make their voices heard.
This one-woman show superbly directed by Kristen van Ginhoven and beautifully staged by Juliana von Haubrich looks exactly the way you would expect of someone like Ann. Wearing costumer Jess Goldstein’s crisp, classic white gabardine suit, white charmeuse blouse, and serviceable white heels with Paul Huntley’s wonderful wig design of poufy white hair, we see Ann completely in charge of an office replete with “oval office” blue carpeting and tons of files and papers. I found the detail of a tiny matching oval office blue footstool which she used to rest her bare feet while she was working, enchanting.
The storyline is fairly simple: Act 1: We are present while Ann is delivering a speech at an imaginary college graduation in the 90’s and ingratiates herself to everyone. Act 2: It’s a typical very hectic day in Ann’s tenure as Governor of Texas during which we see her juggling plans with family, running down details and precedents for a possible stay of execution, bantering with her dear friend Bill Clinton, fuming over speech deadlines, well, you get the gist….
This is a thoroughly enjoyable two hours! I totally agree with what The Honorable Allison Silberberg, the former Mayor of Alexandria said to me at the cast party, “Ann Richards was an inspiration to me and thousands of other Americans!” I highly recommend that everyone race to his/her computer or phone and get tickets before August 11! You can thank me later.
Sidebar: At the cast party following the show I spoke with Alexandria, Va.’s former mayor, The Honorable Allison Silberberg, who told me that for her the show was a complete joy and she would like for everyone who can to see it. She also talked to me about her mother, Barbara Silberberg, who was one of the legions of folks in Texas volunteering to help Ann win her first gubernatorial race.
Ms. Silberberg confided, “My mom, who was deeply involved in community affairs for decades, worked on both of Ann’s gubernatorial races. She managed Ann’s campaign office in Dallas.” Later on her mother, a voracious reader, was subsequently honored to be appointed by Governor Ann Richards to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the administrative agency of the Texas State Library. Ms. Silberberg had a grand time talking with Jayne Atkinson about her mother and discussing details of this production.
Performance and Ticket Information: The production of “Ann” at Arena Stage plays now through August 11, 2019. Running time for “Ann” is approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission. For tickets call 202-488-3300 or go online at arenastage.org.