Review: Sonoma Arts Live’s ‘Ann’ – the story of politician Ann Richards – features outstanding performance by Libby Villari (‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘Boyhood’)

Ann_RichardsThe late, great Ann Richards, former governor of Texas and certified political icon,  had a colorful style and a commanding presence that inspired a generation of women, and a fair number of men, to enter the world of politics themselves.

After Richard’s death of cancer in 2006, Emmy-winning actor Holland Taylor (‘Two-and-a-Half Men,’ ‘The L-Word,’ ‘Legally Blonde’) wrote a Tony-nominated one-woman-show, ‘Ann,’ in which Richards delivers a high school commencement speech, and flashes back to her days as the governor.

The acclaimed solo show is now on stage at Sonoma Arts Live (in a very limited run that ends Sunday afternoon), featuring acclaimed Texan actor Libby Villari, best known for playing Mayor Rodell on ‘Saturday Night Lights’ and for her appearances in ‘Boyhood,’ ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ and ‘Boys Don’t Cry.” Villari, who’s recently been performing the show closer to home in Texas, reportedly discovered that Sonoma Arts Live was considering its own run of ‘Ann,’ and contacted the company, offering to visit Sonoma and reprise her critically-acclaimed performance.

680C5BA463B-0586-FE4A-A256B548E934AD97The result, which opened on Wednesday, is one of the most accomplished single onstage performances I’ve seen in months. Villari is outstanding, tackling a variety of actorly tasks that are amongst the most difficult a performer can assail – convincingly portraying a recognizable public figure, talking on the phone and making it seem like a real conversation is taking place, holding an audience’s attention for two solid hours. Throughout, Villari is funny, moving, surprising, and thoroughly impressive.

The play itself, while a tad overlong and bit oddly structured – especially in how the script tackles the topic of Richards’ death – packs a remarkable amount of information into its two-hour-plus-intermission running time. Ultimately, ‘Ann’ is more than just a biographical drama. It’s a call to action, an exhilarating reminder that, on occasion, the political system can actually work.

It just takes people willing to put everything on the line for the good of their community. Ann Richards did that. In Villari’s capable hands, the story of how that happened, and what Richards accomplished during her time in office, just might make you start imagining the things you could be contributing as well.

‘Ann’ runs Saturday May 21, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 22, 2 p.m. at Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, in Sonoma. Tickets available at

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