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A CurtainUp Review
Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
I came into this mid-run, having heard and read quite a lot about the show. Still, it was surprising in some respects. I thought surely the lone-star in the show, Kathleen Turner would be showing just a little monologue-fatigue. But no. She and her character, Molly Ivins, are strutting about in red boots, fresh and in good form.
I'd heard that the show is entertaining, but that toward the end it gets mawkish. Heck, the whole thing is sentimental. Far from a descent into sentimentality, I found the latter parts interestingly non-literal and more theatrical until the all-out preaching hits, although frankly the appeal for action is quite moving.
Ivins had a mouth, a keyboard, and the brains to back them up. The authors have stated to the press that they didn't want jokes to be the big thing people take away with them. Yet the subtitle is The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. And the kick-ass wit is what drives the thing. This is clever, clever stuff— a quip & zinger-rich environment, a punch line a minute. Take that away and there's not a whole lot left to anchor the piece. Sure, there is substance, but the jokes are the vehicle and medium.
An AP teletype machine is an important story organizing element that operates as a time machine and takes you back. Turner as Ivins reads her early Elvis obit and other reports hot off the wire as the performance moves through time. Basically this is an intermittently narrated slide show, something along the lines of a dog and pony show that becomes more moving as it progresses. Topical but without much insider political stuff, it's scattershot and folksy.
Under the direction of David Esbjornson, the barbed wit has soft edges and music comes up under the personal parts. Even when terminally ill, Ivins loved to celebrate "the sheer joy of a fight." Is this a manifestation of the Alamo Syndrome? (We liberals can't win in Texas, but by God we're going to put up a hell of a fight.)
At the moment there are no definite plans to mount a production elsewhere. Ms. Turner has commitments. And maybe there's a realization that this type of memorial performance art has an expiration date. Molly Ivins must have been one hell of a person, and her political journalism and books — especially during W's administration-— were influential. But that administration is over.
Kathleen Turner is a celebrity. But celebrity legs can carry a monologue only so far. I just wish they could carry it to Texas, where it could have a run in Dallas and buoy up the Democrats — all eleven of them. And even entertain thinking Republicans.
It's a didactic homage piece, more an event or star attraction than enduring theater —-a double chance to appreciate the memory of one strong, widely admired woman and to see another in performance. The passionate and compassionate Molly Ivins is well served in this tribute and Kathleen Turner has the chops to deliver it.