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Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Kathleen Turner gives a remarkable performance as the late newspaper columnist in this involving solo play premiering at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.

By Philadelphia
Kathleen Turner in Red Hot Patriot
(© Mark Garvin)
Kathleen Turner in Red Hot Patriot
(© Mark Garvin)
The late Molly Ivins was many things: She was an old school maverick, a fiercely independent newspaper columnist who advocated for marginalized Americans against the interests of big oil and lifelong politicians, a Texan with and a capital T, a self-described "beer and Marlboro girl" who described her alcohol consumption as akin to a "three day rain in the desert."

Now, this remarkable woman is vividly being brought to full-bodied life by the equally remarkable Kathleen Turner in Margaret and Allison Engel's solo play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, which is currently receiving its world premiere in an involving production at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Dressed in a blue jean shirt, faded jeans and bright red cowboy boots, Turner's Ivins is a force of nature, a Texas tornado with a sharp wit and reporter's determination. But bravado aside, Turner also suggests a deeply empathetic woman who battled cancer with the same ferocity she brought to her life and career.

In director David Esbjornson's production, one of the first of the many images projected onto a large screen behind Turner is the "morgue" at The Texas Observer, where the newspaper stores its back issues. John Arnone's subtlety effective scenic design (which consists of several desks and chairs piled on top of each in the newsroom at the newspaper) is itself a morgue of sorts (a fitting image given the current state of the newspaper business).

Fittingly, the play opens with Ivins composing a column about her father. Referred to as "the General" Ivins' father is (like his daughter) extremely opinionated and the two agree on little. "I hate his world and he hates mine" explains Ivins in a taut summation of their father-daughter relationship. Ivins got along better with her deceased mother, who she describes as a "seriously ditzy" but intelligent woman who prized good manners above all else.

In addition to her family life, the play touches on Ivins' time at Smith College and her stints at various newspapers, including The New York Times. However, the majority of the play focuses on Ivins' career at the Observer, where she became the leading voice for political liberals in Texas. And while her column was eventually syndicated nationwide, her heart remained with the Lone Star State.

The play suffers mildly from contrived transitions and a sentimental conclusion that is at odds with Ivins' tough-as-nails work ethic. Still, we're left with a memorable portrait of a crusading journalist who broke gender barriers to establish herself as one of the nation's most influential and compassionate political columnists.


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