by Holland Taylor

Ann

SEPT 1-9
Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium

H-T Review

Cardinal Stage Company opens 2016-17 season with one-woman show

By Matthew Waterman 
September 5, 2016

Diane Kondrat

Diane Kondrat has returned to Bloomington for the one-woman show “Ann.”

Yet, in other ways, she perfectly embodies the essence of Texas. Her toughness, her no-nonsense attitude, her old-fashioned sense of humor and her big white hairdo seem to exude the Lone Star State.

The life and governorship of Ann Richards, who preceded George W. Bush in office, is memorialized in a one-woman play called “Ann.” The play was performed by its author, Holland Taylor, on Broadway in 2013. Cardinal Stage Company now opens its 2016-17 season with a production of “Ann,” this time performed by Diane Kondrat at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.

Kondrat, though she has been working in Portland, Oregon, for several years, is a veteran of the Bloomington theater scene. Kondrat’s appearances for Cardinal Stage go way back; she performed in “Our Town,” “Doubt,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Red Hot Patriot,” among other Cardinal shows.

Kondrat was directed here by Mary Beth Fisher, a Chicago talent with no prior directorial credits but an impressive array of acting credits at renowned Chicago theaters like Goodman and Steppenwolf.

The collaboration between Kondrat and Fisher, judging from the results, has largely been a successful one. Just as Ann Richards never fit all the stereotypes of Texas politics, “Ann” does not fit the stereotypes associated with one-person shows (boring, dreary, etc.). The play’s two-hour run time (including a 15-minute intermission) constitutes a full evening of theater without wasting anyone’s time.

The story is framed by a commencement speech being delivered by Ann Richards in her post-governorship. Richards is the quintessential commencement speaker, pulling out stories, jokes and tokens of wisdom left and right. The fact that her political career is behind her is liberating from this standpoint; she comes across as honest and charming.

The first segment of the monologue gives us a brief biography of the former governor, starting from her childhood, growing up with a mother as “hard as the nails that held the house together.”

We then spend the remainder of the first act and nearly all of the second act in a flashback to a day in the governorship of Ann Richards. For this part of the show, the curtain is drawn to reveal a beautiful governor’s office designed by Courtney O’Neill.

The short moment in Richards’ term as governor that we see is an extremely hectic time, but one gets the impression that the hectic character of that day was far from unique. On this particular occasion, Richards’ central concern was a decision on whether to grant a stay on the execution of a young man who, after a severely abused childhood, raped and murdered an elderly nun.

Kondrat returns to Bloomington theater with the same fierceness she had in her last performance here, as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. “Ann” starts off with a video of Gov. Richards’ keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, which puts a great deal of pressure on the performer to accurately mimic Richards’ accent and mannerisms. Kondrat lives up to the challenge.

The portrait that Kondrat and Fisher have constructed of Gov. Richards is an ostentatious one, but certainly a likable one. Kondrat delivers Richards’ biting, sometimes even slightly indecent jokes with the mastery of a stand-up comic, or for that matter, a skilled politician.

The middle of the show has its weaknesses, when Taylor’s writing shifts from biographical to depicting a more conventional in-the-moment conflict. The conflict comes across as too simple, or perhaps uncreative. It often seems reducible to the fact that Richards is overwhelmed.

The show ends with an impassioned speech about the importance of voting. The impulse is certainly understandable, but the “you-are-the-government” rhetoric here would fit better in a public service announcement or a high school civics textbook than a play. A less transparent way of expressing this theme would have been preferable from a storytelling standpoint.

Ann Richards died in 2006, but her feisty personality is resurrected for a limited run by Cardinal’s polished production of “Ann.” Kondrat and Fisher, along with the rest of the creative team, have done justice to the legacy of Ann Richards.