Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
Kathleen Turner shines in Arena Stage's production of "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins," as the titular character Molly Ivins. Turner's portrayal of the late political journalist does honor to the feisty liberal activist raised in the heart of Texas and respected for her wit and passion.
The plot of "Red Hot Patriot" is framed around Molly Ivins' attempt to write a column about her father, who she refers to as The General, and takes place in a somewhat simple office. There are only two characters: Molly Ivins (Kathleen Turner) and the silent Helper (Nicholas Yenson) with whom Ivins tries in vain to communicate throughout the play.
A worn-out AP teletype machine serves as the mechanism through which the story progresses. Each newswire brings forth another memory, another story, and another look into the world of Molly Ivins.
Turner does much with only a few props and a distinct southern accent. Witty retorts and sharp one-liners fly effortlessly from her mouth with the precision of a well-trained knife thrower.
Ivins is known for her razor-like wit, and "Red Hot Patriot" provides it in abundance as Turner recreates moments of Ivins' life through the use of flashback-like recounts aided by stark black and white images cast on the screen behind her.
These memories include parts of Ivins' personal story as well as the writer's commentary on the world of politics. From former Texas Representative Mike Martin's self-arranged shooting, which he blamed on a satanic communist cult, to former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Gib Lewis who "mangles our mother tongue something fierce," Ivins' stories read like a Who's Who list of Texas politicians.
While all audiences will find something of interest in this play, writers, activists and the politically-savvy will enjoy it most simply because they share many of the same experiences.
Of particular interest is Ivins' work with and subsequent firing from "The New York Times" due to an article on "gang plucking" and her professional relationship with Democratic politician Bob Bullock. On one hand she admired Bullock for teaching her some of the tricks politicians used to get over, while on the other hand she wasn't pleased that Bullock's assistance helped secure success for former President George W. Bush, whom she nicknamed Shrub.
This production of "Red Hot Patriot" comes at a time that its message of political activism and awareness grows ever more important as the election approaches. We live during a time in which people have become disconnected from, and even cynical of, politics.
By the end of the play, audiences will not only learn more about Molly Ivins, but hopefully be inspired to blaze paths of their own by the character's call to action:
"I need a trumpet call here. I need people in the streets, banging pots and pans. Do not throw away our legacy out of cynicism or boredom or neglect. You have more political power than 99 percent of all the people who have ever lived on this planet...All your life, no matter what else you do, you have another job. You are a citizen."
"Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" runs through October 28 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For info or tickets, call 202-488-3300 or visit http://www.arenastage.org