This week I noticed a lot of other parents juggling work/home balance. It was every which way I turned. At an 8am end of year party for my son’s French class, the teacher ran in 10 minutes late in a complete frenzy because her son had gotten sick right before she had to leave to entertain a classroom full of parents and children. On a conference call, I heard crying while a working mom tried desperately to resume our call. At art appreciation session training this morning, one of the creators chased her daughter around the room while chiming in on the discussion. I, myself, juggled work and motherhood, running from meetings in the city to catch the very last train to make school pick-up. For me, and for so many other women, life can be one big game of juggling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
As I rushed from the suburbs to NYC to catch a matinee of ANN earlier this week, I thought about how hard it had been for go to a simple play. But as I sat watching a play about Ann Richards, the Texas Governor who was elected in 1990 but was then defeated by George W. Bush in 1994, I realized that my juggling issues are nothing compared to hers. In the play, we saw Richards swapping between calls with governors to calls with her children. She had been married for over 40 years and was solely raising a family before she entered politics but once she did, she never gave up on her family duties. As Governor of Texas, the 9th largest economy in the world, she sought and created change. She reformed the prison system, improved the economy and sought to end welfare and fought to defend abortion rights. She had a full agenda.
When Bush beat her after her first term, she said “I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘She kept a really clean house.’ I think I’d like them to remember me by saying, ‘She opened government to everyone.’” Remind you of a recent obituary that glorified a woman’s work in the kitchen? Yvonne Brill’s, of course. If you didn’t read it, you need to read it.
The show starts with a clip from the 1988 Democratic Convention when Richards gave the keynote speech. Her address was notable for including several humorous remarks displaying her down-home Texas charm such as: “I’m delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.” That speech set the tone for her political future and it’s one that I remember very well. Then Holland Taylor comes out with Richard’s signature white hair and a solid southern accent and tells the group of college students she’s addressing that if someone told her she’d be governor in her day when women didn’t amount to anything, she never would have believed it.
As she talks about her childhood, Taylor introduces us to a moment that shaped Richards’ life; when her father was called into the Navy and her mother packed the family up to move to California. It was the first time Richards, at age eleven, attended a school that was desegregated and this became her first awareness of inequality “Life is not fair. I learned that when I was eleven years old. Life is not fair. But government should be.”
The next two hours we hear about the rest of her life. How she married a defense lawyer she was mad about and entered domestic life with zest. “If I had a spare 15 minutes, I’d plan a dinner party for 60.” But at some point, she became disgruntled and started drinking. After a few tough years, her marriage ended and she entered politics to change the ratio. She decided that people in office need a conscience and that government needed to look more like the population. She tells us that true public service requires passion and we watch her in her office juggling important phone calls from the likes of Bill Clinton, signing paperwork, planning a family trip and trying to decide whether to grant a stay of execution. Her years in office go fast but they are important. She left a legacy of pushing for equality, fairness and helping those who need it the most. Taylor gets inside Richards in such a way that I feel as though I spent two hours with the actual woman and that’s saying a lot so kudos to her.
At the end of the show, Taylor enters a dream like moment where she looks back at Richard’s life from heaven. Richards died from cancer in 2006 and we see her looking back at her life but she mainly talks about getting off up and making a difference. If she could do it, any of us can and have to “stop whining and start participating.” She leaves us by saying “Why should your life be just about you?”
And why should it? The play tells to stop and look around. Take the time to create change. Because we all have the power to do so, and that’s a message I’ll keep with me for a while. Between all the juggling, I’ll remind myself about both Ann Richards and the amazing Holland Taylor.
Ann is playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre through September 1st. Check here for tickets.
Disclosure: I received tickets to facilitate this review but all opinions are my own.