It takes more than a touch of goddess to pull off portraying Ann Richards.
It takes Holland Taylor.
Some roles are actor-proof, but it is impossible to imagine anyone else in this role.
Taylor had the talent and good sense to write this one-woman play about the late governor of Texas. Taylor, who plays the mom on "Two and a Half Men," stars in "Ann" at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The superbly done play opens Thursday (March 8).
Richards, who shot to national prominence at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, had the sort of homespun logic that endeared and earned her many a true believer.
Richards was self-made, smart, funny, hard-working and made so much sense that her stances on gun control and women's reproductive rights drew applause from the crowd. And the bulk of the play is set 20 years ago.
This opens with Richards giving a graduation speech. "I have a lot of opinions. Could you imagine if I were your mother-in-law? I could fix you."
During the two acts, she reflects on her small-town childhood, which included fishing with her father and learning to do everything that needed doing around the house. She believed what her father told her: that she could do anything.
Taylor holds the audience, even those who know the outline of Richards' life.
Despite her many achievements, Richards never could satisfy her mother. Even when she gave that career-making speech in 1988 and the world was flocking to her, her mom was most excited about getting to meet the local weatherman because a TV station had set up a special screening in her parents' town.
As Richards, Taylor reflects on a woman who loved politics in its purer form, of how it could help people, and she makes no secret of those who influenced her.
"There was something about Barbara Jordan that made you proud of the country that produced her," she says.
As governor, she is very much every working mom, keeping tabs on her adult children as she plans a family weekend. In between, she is preparing for a major speech and to stay an execution that evening.
While waiting for her speechwriter to submit the speech, assigning her children tasks for the upcoming weekend, Richards communicates with her secretary. We hear Julie White ( "Go On"), though we never see her.
Taylor, however, is more than capable of holding a stage, and Richards is such a rich subject. She went to college, which was unusual enough for a woman born in 1933. Richards married at 19, and had four children.
"I thought taking care of my husband and children was my profession," she says. "If it was in the glossy magazines, I did it."
She took the Waco Women's Club motto -- "if we rest, we rust" to heart. "I was like the poster child for functioning alcoholics."
Richards' family and friends staged an intervention -- before that was a prerequisite to political acceptance -- and she gave up her beloved martinis.
"Look, y'all, I was fun!"
Richards ran for county commissioner when her husband did not want the seat. Clearly a natural, she was then elected state treasurer.
In a move no one could have predicted, the liberal female was elected governor of the Lone Star State. That campaign was the hardest thing she ever did, "except teach junior high."
The woman with the white bouffant and polished suits greets President Clinton as "hey, kid" and kicks off her sensible pumps as she pads around the governor's office.
As the play winds down, Richards says, "I am getting so forgetful, soon I will be able to hide my own Easter eggs."
Taylor seems to falter a couple of times, but it's hard to know if the character is reaching for a word or given that she has uttered thousands of them while on the stage, she needs a moment.
When a portrait of the real Richards is lowered and Taylor looks at it with reverence and blows a kiss, there's a brief moment on a stage in Lincoln Center where all is very right with the world and one can't help but believe that terrific women can achieve goddess status.
Photo/Video credit: Ave Bonar