Women's History Month on the Boards

Women's History Month on the Boards

Theater buffs, check out these three damsels making history on and off Broadway in March.

The late Ann Richards, former governor of the great state of Texas, was larger-than-life. No, that’s an understatement. She was life. As captured by Holland Taylor in Ann, the one-woman play written by and starring Ms. Taylor at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, she’s a fully rounded human being in a white Chanel suit, full of spunk, guts and a raucous sense of humor. She talks dirty with the boys and hair with the girls. I defy you not to like/love her. Before she died in 2006, I used to see the real Ann Richards all the time at the theater. She loved New York, and she loved theater. She’s probably pleased as hell, from her lofty perch in heaven, that she’s now the center of attention in a big Broadway play. The biggest surprise of the evening, for me at least, is that what could have been a political diatribe should be so bipartisan. I expected Bush (as in W)-bashing by the screed. After all, W put paid to her chances of winning a second term as governor. But no, the playwright and her character are even-handed, rolling with the punches, never laying blame but at her own doorstep. And that was Taylor’s intention. When I interviewed her for IN New York (February 2013), she had this to say: “The play is about how a great person lived down to earth, yet looking to the stars. She’s a joy to embody.” What a gal—make that two gals—and what a way to spend two riveting, funny, intelligent hours in the theater.

Vanessa Redgrave. Say the name, and you should almost genuflect in adoration. There is no other like her. Now starring in the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production of Jesse Eisenberg’s The Revisionist, she’s a big actress in a small Off-Broadway theater. Playing a Polish survivor of the Holocaust, she opens her home and her heart to a distant cousin from America, a writer with angst and no manners, played by Eisenberg, who also wrote the play. Redgrave is the mistress of physical life onstage. Watch her face as she eats tofu for the first time. Or answer the phone, put the kettle on, vacuum. She inhabits the set. Watch, too, as she has her legs shaved. I won’t give away the context, but I will say she has the best pins on and off Broadway of any actress of any age. The look of joy on her face in this scene is worth the price of admission alone. The young student actors in the front rows of the Cherry Lane had come to see their bro Eisenberg, who does not disappoint, but at curtain call it was 76-year-old Redgrave who had the kids on their feet cheering. She had just given a master class in acting, and they knew a goddess had blessed them.

Is there a funnier, more thought-provoking play on Broadway than Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike? I think not. Kudos to David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver and the entire cast for making this existential soufflé rise. But special praise to Kristine Nielsen, an actress who’s been around the block, just not mine. Before Wednesday night, I didn’t know her from Eve. Five minutes into the play, and she was my new favorite actress. Could it have been the way she rolls her eyes, wraps her vowels around a quip or does a spot-on imitation of Maggie Smith (not the Downton Abbey dowager of today, but the Oscar-winning movie star of the 1970s)? Her telephone monologue toward the end of the play stops the show. Not since Julie White in Douglas Carter Beane’s 2006 The Little Dog Laughed has an actress relished such a tour de force. Message to Ms. Nielsen: Apologies for not registering you before now. I promise it won’t happen again.