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Jan 062015
 

If you’re looking for an entertaining piece of theater that will leave you both laughing and pondering your own place on the political map, go see Red Hot Patriot.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins by Margaret Engel & Allison Engel. Directed by Courtney O’Connor. Staged by the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA, through January 31.

Karen MacDonald as Molly Ivins in the Lyric Stage Company production of "Red Hot Patriot." Photo: Mark S. Howard

Karen MacDonald as Molly Ivins in the Lyric Stage Company production of “Red Hot Patriot.” Photo: Mark S. Howard

By Helen Epstein

“I treat my emotions like unpleasant relatives,” admits the ironic journalist at the center of the Lyric Stage’s Boston Premiere production of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick–Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. This one-woman show features a born and bred Texan who never won a Pulitzer, was turned down twice for Harvard’s Nieman Fellowship, and was an uncomfortable fit for six years at the New York Times. She wrote nine books of political commentary, starting with Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? (1991) and including the immortal Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (2000) before dying of breast cancer at 62.

Ivins wrote almost until the very end, funny, politically incisive, a live wire and legend of American journalism. Playwrights Margaret and Allison Engel, both former journalists, director Courtney O”Conner, and Karen MacDonald, one of Boston’s best actors, do a wonderful job of bringing her back to life.

The set evokes a twentieth century newsroom, with newspaper clippings and photographs tacked to the back wall, which has a wire service machine set against it as well as a column of gray metal file drawers. Molly’s messy metal desk with typewriter dominates the stage.

“I’m writing,” she announces as the show begins, hands on her head, then in the air, instead of on the typewriter keys. “This is what writing looks like.” She’s working on a column about her father, a Texas oil and gas executive whom everyone called “The General,” and the stalled draft offers an opportunity for Molly to digress into both personal and political history.

The script, culled from many of Ivins’s own columns, speeches, and letters, is tight, witty, and filled with salty charm. The language is not only colorful but concise as she tells stories about her family and American history from the last sixty years.

Many of those stories are, of course, set in Texas where Ivins was born in 1945 and raised in an affluent Houston family. She graduated from Smith College, interning at the Houston Chronicle every summer, went to journalism school at Columbia and was soon employed in Texas at the journalistic start-up The Texas Observer. She eventually worked for all the major newspapers in Texas and her column was syndicated far outside the state.

Karen MacDonald as Molly Ivins in the Lyric Stage Company Production of "Red Hot Patriot." Photo: Mark S. Howard.

Karen MacDonald as Molly Ivins in the Lyric Stage Company Production of “Red Hot Patriot.” Photo: Mark S. Howard.

The play offers an primer in Texas (and American) politics, accompanied by projections of large news photos of Democrats such as one-term governor Ann Richards and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock as well as Republicans from the Bushes to the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Gib Lewis. Though she most often targets the Texas Legislature and the Republican Party, Ivins is critical of one and all.

The play, which first opened in Philadelphia in 2010, still feels fresh and O’Conner’s staging moves along fast and seamlessly. Clad in denim and cowboy boots, MacDonald creates an authentic Ivins, delivering the journalist’s critiques and send-ups with panache, her delivery clear and convincing. More than one audience member was astonished at MacDonald’s command of a tightly-written, 75-minute monologue broken up only by the teletype machine and the silent appearances of an office boy.

If you’re looking for an entertaining piece of theater that will leave you both laughing and pondering your own place on the political map, go see Red Hot Patriot.


Helen Epstein is a cultural journalist and author whose work can be found at Plunkett Lake Press.

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