By John Lyle Belden
Once in a while we encounter a larger-than-life personality – someone we’d love to get to know better, learn her life story and maybe what makes her so awesome.
If one wants to represent this person on stage in a one-woman show, this daunting task requires an equally impressive actor. Fortunately, in the case of Texas Governor Ann Richards, this job was filled by Emmy-winning actress Holland Taylor, who wrote and performed the 2010 show “Ann” on various stages, including one in Broadway, earning a Tony nomination.
For the Cardinal Stage Company production, under way daily through Friday in Bloomington, the responsibility – and unmistakable tower of hair – were placed on Diane Kondrat. A familiar face to Cardinal audiences, as well as patrons of Indy’s Phoenix Theatre (though she now lives in Portland, Ore.), Kondrat transforms into the funny but no-nonsense political dynamo who burst onto the national scene at the 1992 Democratic Convention and shortly took charge of one of America’s largest states, despite the rising tide of Republican Conservatism in the South. The facade never truly cracks, though the unique “Kondrat” grin does sneak in occasionally, perhaps alerting her long-time fans that she’s having fun with this, too.
Gov. Richards is introduced as the speaker for a collegiate graduating class – that’s us in the audience, bringing us within the fourth wall. For her memories as Governor, the curtain parts and she is fully immersed in the scenes, communicating only with the phone and the disembodied voice of her assistant (supplied by the show’s director, Mary Beth Fisher). It is in these moments, between meeting with Girl Scouts and deciding the fate of a condemned killer, that we see the weight of a job that would challenge any person, regardless of party or gender. Mix in that she never ceases to be a Mom – whether calling scattered adult children to ensure they will all attend a family gathering, or finding the strength not to strangle a young staffer who made a rookie mistake – and we get the measure of a truly remarkable woman.
We also get her unmistakable trademark humor, expressed with full knowledge of the fine line between diffusing a difficult situation and not being taken seriously – “It’s very tricky when a woman is funny,” is how she put it. Nearly all of her great one-liners are there in the show (with the possible exception of her most famous, “Poor George [H.W. Bush]… he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”)
Though Richards herself passed away in 2006, we find ourselves glad to meet her again, and grateful to Kondrat and the Cardinal company for bringing her to us.
Performances are held at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium, 122 W. Walnut St. in downtown Bloomington. Ger information and tickets at 812-336-9300 or cardinalstage.org.