Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
To be sure, actor-playwright Holland Taylor had a great storyand many memorable quotesto draw on in recounting the life of the second woman governor in Texas history. (The first, as Richards notes, took office in the 1920s after her husband went to jail.) Taylor brackets Richards' memories as coming from a college graduation address she is giving after leaving office.
However, being witty is not enough: the production would not work without Atkinson's luminous, multi-leveled performance and Kristen van Ginhoven's unobtrusive direction. As portrayed here, Richards could be frustrating to work with and sometimes cared too much about less important things, but she barreled on while juggling her political career with her four children and working toward her goal to create "a state government that looked like the population of the state."
Richards talks about her childhood in a tiny Texas town and visiting San Diego, where her father was stationed during World War II. At age 11, she saw an enormous group of boys and girls of all races and ethnic groups leaving a high school and realized that, while the children were of all kinds, they were all like her. That was the beginning of her determination that all Texans, and all Americans, must receive equal treatment under the law. To quote her, "Life isn't fair, but government should be."
Richards, like most women of her generation, assumed she would spend her life as a loving wife, devoted mother of four, and perfect homemaker. It was her (soon-to-be-ex) husband, a civil rights lawyer, who first suggested she run for office, and once she did there was no turning back.
Atkinson, poised in an off-white suit designed by Jess Goldstein, comfortably inhabits Juliana von Haubrich's set as Richards paces, hunches over a desk, and tries to stifle her exasperation through a succession of phone calls with her assistant (the recorded voice of Tony Award winner Julie White), supporters, antagonists, and family members.