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Theater & Dance

The Spirit of Governor Ann Richards Takes Center Stage at WaterTower Theatre

Written by Emmy winner Holland Taylor, the one-woman play Ann takes an introspective look at the iconic Texas politician.
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Morgana Shaw as former Governor Ann Richards in WaterTower Theatre's production of Ann by Holland Taylor. Paris Marie Productions

When Susan Sargeant found herself with the opportunity to direct Ann at Addison’s WaterTower Theatre back in January 2023, it felt like the stars had aligned. “I think it was meant for me in this moment in my life and in my career,” the accomplished actor and director says.

For 25 years, Sargeant served as the founder and producing artistic director at WingSpan Theatre Company, which spotlighted stories “for, by, or about women.” Although the company closed in 2022, Ann captures the heart of Sargeant’s mission there.

“A strong female character is right up my alley, and goodness knows, Ann Richards embodies all of that,” she says.

Originally written, directed, and performed by Emmy Award-winner Holland TaylorAnn is a one-woman show that provides a detailed, intimate glimpse of the iconic Texas governor, who served in office from 1991 to 1995. Running February 14–25, the WaterTower Theatre production starring Morgana Shaw promises audiences a behind-the-scenes look at much more than just Richards’ time in the state’s top office. It highlights her heart and spirit as it explores her entire life and career, Sargeant says.

She explains that Ann reaches all the way back to Richards’ childhood. The governor retells her life within the framework of a commencement speech. The play addresses how her father helped instill in her a sharp wit and sense of confidence, reinforcing themes of family and home that echo throughout the wide-ranging production. 

When it comes to Richards’ time as governor, Ann takes audiences into a particularly frenetic period in the middle of her term. “Ann, in the play, is going through all kinds of battles,” Sargeant says. Amidst the chaos, however, audiences will see Richards beyond just her position as governor to her role as a mother and grandmother as well. 

“It’s blisteringly funny because of the way she deals dynamically with each one of her four children,” Sargeant says of a scene where Richards organizes a family trip to the country. She explains how Richards “becomes a grandmother in front of your eyes” when a call comes through from her granddaughter, Lily. The scene illustrates the importance Richards placed on her family, Sargeant says. “You get such heart and soul, and you really understand that side of the woman, which I don’t know if everybody really understands that side of Ann Richards.”

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Ann director Susan Sargeant. Lowell Sargeant

Throughout the play’s journey, it retains that same personal focus, a perspective informed by Taylor’s extensive research and discussions she had with those who were close to Richards. 

Sargeant herself researched Richards’ life and career to give “all the richness that I can transmit to (Morgana Shaw).” Prior to rehersals, she read both Richards’ autobiographyStraight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Placesand Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid. Shaw also received the books and researched Richards following her casting this past August.

The intensive research helped Sargeant and Shaw understand the many nuances of the play. The director took particular inspiration from Richards’ feminism, work ethic, and approach to governance, among her other traits. She referred to Richards’ voice as ahead of its time, with her approach to governorship still resonating today.

For the few references in the play that were beyond the scope of Sargeant and Shaw’s research, they went directly to Holland Taylor herself. Sargeant recalls how she emailed questions to Taylor on multiple occasions and talked on the phone during the rehearsal process.

Sargeant appreciated hearing Taylor’s passion for Ann, specifically her inspiration for writing the play and their shared desire to present the many aspects of the former governor’s personality and life.

“My goal as a director is to put up a three-dimensional human being on the stage,” Sargeant says of presenting Richards throughout Ann. She believes it’s an approach that “entices a conversation” no matter what side of the political aisle an audience member falls on.

“From a purely theatrical point of view, I want them to be entertained,” Sargeant says. “I mean, spending an evening with Ann Richards, that’s better than sitting at home watching Netflix.”

Feb. 14–25. $49. WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Rd., Addison. Get tickets here.

Author

Brett Grega

Brett Grega

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