We Love Arts: Red Hot Patriot

Kathleen Turner in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I wonder if people missed Mark Twain this much.

Sometimes it’s hard not having Molly Ivins around anymore – perhaps never more so than in an election year. Her Twainian quips and raw delivery might save us these days, when it’s hard to tell a political quote from a Onion article.

Fortunately for all of us, Ivins has been reborn in the body of Kathleen Turner; and she’s come back to visit us for a brief moment in Arena Stage’s Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.

A liberal columnist from conservative Texas, Molly Ivins was known for her biting satire and crusader-like persona. She was a big character who would fit well in a stage play; and Turner doesn’t disappoint.

Turner’s Ivins owns the stage and fills the room with her presence. She leaps from story to story with gusto until, in rare but beautiful moments, she hits on something too personal for her usual bravado.

In more or less consecutive order, Turner delves into everything that gave Ivins voice: her family tragedies, sexism, racism, protest, and of course Texas’ own George W. Bush. “Can you believe God gave me all this material for free?” she asks.

There’s plenty of teasing, too – primarily of The New York Times and Texas politicians like Ann Richards and Bob Bullock. She’s funny of course, and the show fills your head with one-liners worth jotting down.

But perhaps the most impressive part of the show is how truly the script and Turner work together to bring this woman back to life. The playwrights – twin-sister journalists Margaret and Allison Engel – stay very true to Ivins’ style. Their Ivins tells stories, pitches one-liners, and then calls us out for our political choices while we’re still laughing.

It’s particularly strange to see this show in DC, where the audience hangs on her every word and takes politics personally at times. Most of Ivins’ impassioned pleas led to nodding agreement and even applause, which at first makes me wonder if Turner is preaching to the choir until I remember how much DC still has to learn about civil rights.

As a satirist, Ivins never stops pointing out the absurdities of our system and the inequalities she saw around her. Those absurdities still exist, in our government buildings, law books, and yes, even our theaters. Now possibly more than ever, we are divided, polarized people; and we have an election coming to bring out the worst in us as both sides fight for authority and control.

“My legacy will be helping people be a pain in the ass to those in power,” Ivins says.

Live on then, Molly.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins performs at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle through October 28th. Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater is located at 1101 6th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024. Closest Metro stop: Waterfront (Green line). For more information call 202-488-3300.

Joanna moved to DC in 2010 knowing she’d love it, and as usual she was right. She enjoys eating fried things, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, and makes up for the damage done by snacking on organic oats and barley and walking long distances to wherever with her dog Henry. Joanna now lives with her husband and said dog in Los Angeles, and they all miss DC terribly. Follow her on Twitter or contact her at joannacastlemiller.com.

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