In a post-Trump age, feminist theater makes a strong comeback — in North Texas, at least — with a trio of current productions
June 2, 2017 | Jonanna Widner and Arnold Wayne Jones
Strength was also the defining characteristic of Ann Richards — well, that, and a penchant for the perfect zinger with a Texas twang. Ann was written by Emmy Award-winning actress Holland Taylor as a role for herself to perform, which she did exclusively… until last year, when Linda Leonard became the first new actress to take on the role for a five-week run at Stage West. The run was such a hit, executive producer Dana Schultes decided to bring it back… specifically as a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S. They “wanted to do it again sooner rather than later,” Leonard says, so when the opening at the Irving Arts Center came, they leapt at it. It also allowed the actress to refine and finesse a monstrous two-hour monologue.
“I am delighted to be doing it again,” says Leonard. “We need to see politicians who are honest and true and more of what we [deserve]. Whether you agreed with her politics, you had to respect Ann Richards’ integrity and how everything she did was about other people.”
For her own part, Leonard was something of a neophyte about Richards when she was first cast.
“I came [to Texas] in 1993, right at the end of her administration. But Holland was so helpful in my success in the role — she have me insights about Ann’s relationships that are not in the script. And I [began to see] a lot of me in her, which I didn’t expect when I started. That’s been really nice. I now have a better understanding what the play is [really about]. It’s about the woman — yes, her in a political arena, but also about how she was shaped so much by her four years in the governor’s office.”
And, as it happens, how much she influenced others. Leonard says every performance in the last run was a learning experience, as people would come up after to share their memories of the governor.
“People who came to see the show who knew her were absolutely in love with her,” she says. “She made you feel like you were the only person in the room. Two [European] women who came to see the show flew in from San Francisco [specifically for the production]. They had met Ann years earlier, and wanted to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary together with ‘her.’ The explained how much she had influenced their lives, including their efforts to get married and to stay in the United States. When you have that opportunity to embody someone who had that much giveback, it’s amazing.”