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PASADENA, Calif. — If Texas politics is a contact sport, then Ann Richards was an MVP, and judging from Holland Taylor’s take on her, she knew it.
“She had a quite big signature, which her chief of staff Mary Beth said would sometimes get bigger when her ego was particularly big that day,” Taylor said with a smile.
Her rehearsal space upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse is flooded with details that she learned from years of research. They have replicated Richards’ doodle covered desk blotter, full of drawings and phrases like “The only one with sense enough to leave the Alamo was a woman.”
A replica of art glass globe, a crystal paperweight shaped like the Texas state capital, a giant Rolodex, these props are carefully chosen and used, including her very large, multi-line vintage phone.
“You just cannot get a phone like this, but we got a phone like this,” Taylor beamed. “It’s not necessary to have these things exactly as they were, but I like it.”
The Emmy-winning actress actually met Gov. Richards once, a singular encounter that left an impression on her as big as that famous signature, and the democrat’s death in 2006 hit the actress hard.
“It left me bereft in a way that went on a long time,” Taylor recalled. “I was very surprised by how moved I was by the loss of her, for us and for the country, for me.”
She channeled her feelings into something creative. Maybe a movie of a week, she thought. But one day while driving, it hit her.
“It’s a play. It’s her live personal engagement with an audience,” she explained. “I pulled over because I was flooded with ideas.”
She’d never written anything, let alone a one woman show, and she said she’s not a spiritual person, but she felt driven by a powerful force…maybe even Richards herself. During interviews with many of the late governor’s staffers and friends, she learned Richards had enjoyed “Two and Half Men” and thought Taylor was “the bomb.” 
She imagines Richards, knowing someone would probably portray her someday, casting her from the beyond.
“It’s like she said ‘I know who should do it,’” Taylor said, slipping seamlessly into Richard’s slow Southern drawl. “’I’m gonna give her a little prod. Give her a little poke. From up here. She’s gonna get this idea.’ And I ran with it."
The Playhouse production, the West Coast premiere of the piece, is her ninth time embodying the outspoken democrat and possibly her last. As comfortable as she is with the part, she always finds new meaning and inspiration each time she steps into the governor’s shoes.
“She’s a real hero, but the point of it is she’s a wonderfully flawed human being,” Taylor explained. “She’s really like your favorite aunt who is just so fantastic, but when they’re with you, you are the only person on earth.” 
Ann Richards was the last woman to serve as governor of Texas. She held the seat from 1991 to 1995 when she lost her reelection bid to Republican George W. Bush. But Taylor is quick to point out that the piece isn’t about political partisanship. It is about participation.
“Whereas most of us just say, ‘God, they should put a stop sign out there,’” she said, “certain people say ‘I’mma see who I talk to about that.’”
Richards was one of those people and Taylor hopes audiences will leave equally inspired to nurture and care for the world that is in their hands.
As she says in the play, “The government isn’t they. The government is you. It is me. It’s us.”
"Ann" is running at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 24.

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