Ann Richards had a mouth on her, as they say.
Dazzling the Democrats at their 1988 national convention, she earned a place in zinger history when she opined that George Herbert Walker Bush should be pitied because “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
Incredibly, that line is missing from “Ann,” Holland Taylor’s solo ode to the late Texas governor. So is the late Texas governor.
This sleep-inducing show raises several questions:
Who among more than 20 (20!) producers thought the right place for “Ann” would be the challenging barn-ness of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre?
Who thought two hours (with intermission) of reminiscence, in which bickering over a travel expense is given as much weight as talking to Bill Clinton, is worth any sentient human’s time?
And how was it possible to so totally suck the life out of one of the richest characters in Texas politics?
Taylor is a wonderful actress (TV’s “Two-and-a-Half Men”) whose devotion to her subject is not in question. In teased-out wig and Chanel-style suit, she’s a near perfect ringer for Richards, and she has the twang down without overdoing it.
But Taylor’s script, drawn from Richards’s writings and interviews, is a mountain of wheat and chaff, coal and diamonds, whatever metaphor you want.
I had to wonder what director Benjamin Endsley Klein did to sharpen the script. Anything? The show trundles from one cliche to the next: “Ann” opens with Richards addressing an unidentified graduating class. A silly demand for a bathroom break precedes intermission.
“Ann” does honor Richards’s achievements as governor and, later, as advocate of liberal causes. The warm sparring with Clinton and especially their shared reverence for Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is moving. But this meandering hagiography unbecomes the swaggering doyenne who, for a time, outgunned the sharpshooters around her.
Through June 9 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.lct.org. Rating: *1/2
Matt is determined to win the hand of Sally Talley in Lanford Wilson’s lyrical 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. To help, he has a soft summer evening, a romantically decrepit Victorian boathouse and, across the Missouri River, the lilting sounds of Independence Day festivities.
“They tell me we have 97 minutes here tonight without intermission,” Matt says. “And since I’m not the romantic type, I’m going to need the whole shmeer here to help me.”
Matt, played with honeyed sincerity by Danny Burstein, is a Jewish immigrant accountant from St. Louis who fell in love with the extremely not-Jewish Sally the summer before and has returned to close the deal.
Sarah Paulson’s strong-willed Sally insists such deal- closing will not happen. But Matt gets a different message:
“You can chase me away or you can put on a pretty dress,” he tells her, “but you can’t put on a pretty dress to come down here and chase me away.” Check and mate.
Lanford Wilson knew Missouri as intimately as he knew the fictional Talleys, for whom he wrote three plays (the best known was “The Fifth of July”).
Director Michael Wilson and his two-member cast burrow deep inside these appealingly frightened characters and, especially, into the poetry of their stories as the night drifts along and the revelations, like stars, come out.
Rather than divide them, those secrets, so reticently exposed, will create the charming waltz Matt promises. Jeff Cowie’s slightly too-whimsical set, Rui Rita’s moody lighting and Mark Bennett’s barely-audible soundscape all help conjure the ideal setting.
Burstein has become an anchor of New York theater, from his Luther Billis in “South Pacific” to, most recently, the fight trainer Tokio in “Golden Boy.” Matt is his most heartfelt performance yet, in a role originated by Judd Hirsch.
Paulson, too, is wonderful (despite an awful wig) as the nurse’s aide with a not-so-scandalous past.
They have all done beautifully by a playwright who left some of the tenderest writing this side of Tennessee Williams before dying just two years ago.
Through May 5 at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Information: +1-212-719-1300; http://www.roundabouttheatre.org Rating: ****1/2
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.