If you’re a fan of politics, theatre, or Elizabeth Warren, you should try and check out Ann, which has just two more performances out in Sonoma. Being presented by Sonoma Arts Live, it’s a one-woman show based on the life and career of Ann Richards, who stole the spotlight at the 1988 Democratic Convention from Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (admittedly, not a difficult thing) with her keynote speech takedown of then Vice-President George H. W. Bush. From there, she managed to become the 45th Governor of Texas.
Holland Taylor, an Emmy-winning actress for her work on Two and a Half Men, began researching and writing the show after Richards’ passing in 2006. After several regional performances, it opened on Broadway in 2013 and Taylor’s performance was recognized with a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Play.
Sonoma Arts Live’s production has actress Libby Villari in the role. Villari has had a successful film and television career having worked with such directors as Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Richard Linklater and Peter Berg. She actually credits Richards for her career, as Richards was a major factor in making Texas more “film friendly” and expanding opportunities for Texas-based artists.
Villari came to the role through a set of fortuitous circumstances and though she’s only performed it a handful of times (and with limited rehearsal), she seems born to play it. She commands the stage for two hours and captures Richards’ personality, her compassion, her sense of fair play and, most of all, her sense of humor. She reminds us of a time when the point of entering public service was truly to serve the public.
Using the devices of a high school commencement address and a series of phone conversations, Ann takes us from her time as a Texas housewife and teacher to political campaign manager to county commissioner to State Treasurer and ultimately to the Governor’s office. Villari’s performance helps us understand how a progressive, white-haired, female, recovering alcoholic Democrat thrived, at least for a while, deep in the macho heart of red, red Texas.
One-person shows are often difficult to pull off. (Technically, Ann is a two-person show with Libby Oberlin providing the off-stage voice as Ann’s assistant in the Governor’s Office scenes.) Too often they just become a recounting of an individual’s “greatest hits”. While Ann does adhere to the “Well, I began… then I…” format, Richard’s personality and Villari’s performance take it beyond that. Villari is terrific in the role and absolutely connected with the opening night audience. I think Ann herself would be slapping her knees and cackling at her portrayal.
Sonoma Arts Live’s production of Ann is a fun and inspiring evening of theatre. It reminds us that good people do go into politics. As I left the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder what Ann Richards would have to say about the current state of American leadership. As much fun as she had needling our 41st President, I can’t imagine what she’d be saying about our 45th.
Sonoma Arts Live presents
through May 21
Sat @ 7:30pm, Sun @ 2pm
Sonoma Community Center
276 E Napa St
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 938-4626 ext 1