They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that certainly applies to the late governor Ann Richards. She was known for her sky-high white coif, her can-do political prowess, and her electrifying keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where she slammed presidential candidate George H.W. Bush as having been ”born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Richards passed away in 2006, but her larger-than-life persona is about to be resurrected with Ann, a one-woman play written by and starring Two and a Half Men’s Holland Taylor.
The show (opening at Broadway’s Vivian Beaumont Theater on March 7) is a kind of homecoming for Taylor, a 70-year-old Philadelphia native who got her start on the stage before finding a foothold in Hollywood in the 1980s and ’90s. She’s best known for playing ritzy, upper-class women in films like Legally Blonde and Baby Mama and on TV shows like Bosom Buddies and The Practice (which netted her an Emmy in 1999). While she’s earned four Emmy noms as the ever-exasperated mother of Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen’s Harper brothers on the hit CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Taylor has never been able to shake her first professional love. ”The theater is more my natural habitat than television or film,” says the actress, who has never married or had children. ”I know my way around better. I’m better in it.”
Although Taylor never met Richards, the actress says she was almost mystically compelled to tell the governor’s story following her death at age 73 from esophageal cancer seven years ago. ”I just couldn’t stand that she died,” Taylor says. ”She’d been part of my universe and a terrifically reassuring and inspiring and empowering figure.” During two years of research trips to Texas, the actress dug through reams of documents and met with Richards’ children, chief of staff, and even secretaries. Ultimately, she produced a tight two-act play that captures Richards’ sass, savvy political maneuvering, and humor via imagined moments that range from delivering a graduation address to rolling calls in the governor’s office. ”It’s like pecan pie,” Taylor says of her script. ”It’s packed! It all counts.” And the comedic drama has met with favorable responses in five previous productions, including three in Texas. The show’s director, Benjamin Endsley Klein, marvels at the similarities he sees between the two women. ”They’re both passionate about something,” he says, ”and they’ve gone out and made it happen.”
Given her commitment to Ann, Taylor has been MIA from Two and a Half Men since last September’s season premiere. She’s open to returning if the show is renewed for an 11th season, but Sheen’s public meltdown and subsequent firing have shifted her perspective. ”The dynamic of me, Jon, and Charlie was a triangle, and if that doesn’t exist, I don’t think they have a need for [”my”] character,” she says. As for Sheen? ”I worry about him. I don’t know what’s going to happen in his life, but I adore him.”
For now, Taylor is focused on making Ann’s Broadway run as successful as Richards’ political career. She calls Ann ”the role of a lifetime,” but when pressed about future acting ambitions, she looks flabbergasted. ”Have you taken leave of your senses?” she says, reminding her questioner that she is 70. ”How many lives do you think I’ve got?”