🎭 A Political Firebrand | “Ann” @ Pasadena Playhouse

Ann (Pasadena Playhouse)Back in February 2020, I was visiting my daughter in Madison WI. Tickets had just gone on sale for a show my wife really wanted to see, Ann, at the Pasadena PlayhouseAnn was a one-woman show that told the story of Ann Richards, Democratic Governor of Texas from 1991-1995.  Richards was a political firebrand known for speaking her mind, which was well demonstrated at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (where we first learned about her). It was Richards who came up with the line I’m sure you’ve heard: “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

We had been planning to see the show in May 2020. But then COVID happened. The show was cancelled; we had a credit at the Playhouse that we rolled into their new membership program. The new season was announced. Guess what was on the season? Yup. Ann was back.

We ticketed it as soon as we could, and coordinated the handicapped seating for my wife.

The story of the show’s origins is best described by the LA Times. It is a play that Holland Taylor (who folks probably remember best as the mother in Two and a Half Men, but whom I remember from It’s a Living) was compelled to write. Taylor was a regular on “Two and a Half Men” when the desire to write “Ann” seized hold of her. She dropped to a visiting role, and started to write and research (starting in 2006). She did extensive research, and seemingly channeled Richards. The play started its life at a venue we knew well, the NoHo Arts Center (the executive producer is married to James Mellon, who ran NoHo ACE). It played in Texas in 2010, on Broadway in 2013, and was recorded for Great Performances. Taylor has indicated this is the last time she’ll be putting on the wig and playing the role.

(and, yes, I’m writing this review a week late. Last Sunday was really busy with preparations for a new podcast I’m starting, and I didn’t get to the review)

The presentation of the show is simple, and best divided into three parts (it runs just under two hours, plus an intermission). It opens with Richards giving a graduation speech at a Texas university I didn’t recognize, where she reminiscences about her life and her origins, include her life with her parents, her marriage, and her entry into politics. It then transitions to the Texas Governor’s office, where we get to see Richards at work playing the political game. The third part is after she’s left office, talking about her post-governor life.

The show was laugh-out-loud funny, which isn’t a surprise given Richards opinions and lack of a filter. It was also a reminder of how politics has changed — especially in places like Texas. Texas used to be a Democratic stronghold — remember they gave us LBJ — and even their Republicans were often moderates (when you look back at the Bushes, you can see that). I’ll note Richard’s didn’t have a high opinion of Bush — she’s the one that said “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” She also said of Republicans, “You have to be against government interference in business until your oil company, corporation or Savings and Loan is about to go broke and you beg for a government bailout.” So her attitudes are refreshing, and very far away from where Texas is today. Texas really needs someone who can speak the truth and be listened to; which is very far from the current leaders who toe the Trumpublican line.  Perhaps Beto will be that person.

Hopefully the few Conservatives in Southern California can go to this play and enjoy it. But it really works well given the progressive nature of the area. We really enjoyed it.

Supporting Taylor, but not seen, was Julie White as the voice of Nancy Kohler (Richards’ office professional)

Turning to the production side: The production was directed by Benjamin Endsley Klein, who directed the show on Broadway and kept the pace lively and the performances believable. The simple scenic design (a podium in front of a drape; the governor’s office) was by Michael Fagin (no relation), who also designed the Broadway production. The production team connections with this show continued with the sound and light: Ken Huncovsky Sound DesignSarah Ec Maines Lighting Design. Costume design was by Julie Weiss; and Hair and Wig design was by Paul Huntley. This was probably one of Huntley’s last productions; he passed away in July 2021. Both costumes and wigs were simple but critical: a light blue pantsuit, and Richards’ signature Beehive hairdo. Projections were by Zachary Borovay. Other production credits: Kevin Bailey Executive Producer; Bob Tolaro Stage Manager; Kevin Bailey Asst Stage Manager; TJ Norton Production AssistantThere was no credit for a COVID safety officer. Although it wasn’t in the Playbill, writing this up I discovered that Bailey was in a production at the Pasadena Playhouse we fondly remember, Heartbeats.

Ann continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 24. Tickets are available through the Playhouse’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar or through TodayTix. It is well worth seeing.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member (modulo the COVID break). I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Actors Co-op (FB), 5 Star Theatricals (FB), Broadway in Hollywood (FB), the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), and we have a membership at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). We were subscribing at the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) prior to COVID; they have not yet resumed productions. We have also been subscribers at the Soraya/VPAC (FB), although we are waiting a year before we pick that up again. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups. Note to publicists or producers reading this: here’s my policy on taking comp tickets. Bottom-Line: Only for things of nominal value, like Fringe.

Upcoming Shows:

For right now, we’re pretty much sticking with shows that come as part of our subscriptions or are of interest through our memberships. That may change later in 2022. Looking further into 2022: Next weekend brings the Southern California Renaissance Faire; and Tootsie at Broadway in Hollywood (FB). May brings Hadestown at at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). June will see Come From Away at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Pretty Woman at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), as well as Tom Paxon at McCabes plus as much of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as we have the energy for. July brings Moulin Rouge at Broadway in Hollywood (FB) [Pantages], Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Newsies at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), and Freestyle Love Supreme back at The Pasadena Playhouse (FB). August is quieter, with just The Prom at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Lastly (for this look ahead), September brings Oklahoma the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and Jagged Little Pill at Broadway in Hollywood (FB), although they are on the same day so I’ll be shifting one show. September may also bring Andrew Lippa’s version of The Wild Party at the Morgan Wixson Theatre. This was a show I had been planning to see before the COVID shutdown, so I’m putting it in the “part of our subscriptions” list. There may also be some Hollywood Bowl stuff, depending on how my wife is doing.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarOn Stage 411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget (although I know it is outdated and need to update it). Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country (again, I need to review this for the post-COVID theatre landscape)!

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