Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Taylor-Made 'Ann' Is Quite Impressive But Not That Interesting -- Theatre Review

Theatre Review

Written & Performed by Holland Taylor
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 4

I have seen many wonderful performances on theatrical stages this year, but I doubt I will witness one any better than that which Holland Taylor gives as ex-Texas Governor Ann Richards in the biographical show Taylor also authored.

But while 'Ann' is a tour de force for Taylor--a longtime TV star now on Two and a Half Men--and provides a decent briefer on its subject, as a piece of theater well over 2 hours, it falls short of superlative.

Which isn't to say that the late Richards isn't worthy of a bio-play or that Taylor doesn't showcase plenty of her own strong writing. And Taylor's embodiment of Richards makes this a work worth recommending, simply for the acting. But the show is more a superb characterization than a fully captivating and compelling drama.

'Ann' opens with Richards making a commencement speech at a fictional Texas college well after her term as governor ended in 1995 (she was defeated for re-election by George W Bush; imagine how history may have changed if she wasn't). Taylor does a phenomenal job of looking and sounding like Richards, providing biographical background and anecdotes.

But though Richards herself was a gifted speaker--as she famously showcased in her keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention--the "speech portion" of the show starts to feel a bit long. Wisely, after about 40 minutes, Taylor--directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein--enacts Richards' time as governor by sitting behind a desk, barking out orders and berating subordinates (other voices were occasionally heard, but no other actors were onstage).

But the show fails to provide much closure on the scenarios it depicted, whether in terms of Richards' trying to stop the execution of a death row inmate or track down her children for a family gathering. It also didn't leave me with as much sense of Richards' accomplishments as I would have liked, and though its theoretically fine that the affair is more a documentary-type depiction than a dramatic narrative, the various threads got a bit long and unwieldy in the second act.

I think 'Ann' would work much better if what Taylor showcases about Richards becomes a good deal more concentrated. Like its subject matter, who passed away from cancer in 2006, the show is rather impressive. (Prior to becoming governor, Richards had overcome a battle with alcoholism and had been divorced.) But at this point, there are considerable portions that just aren't all that interesting.

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