Arena Stage Red Hot PatriotBy Genie Baskir • Aug 28th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Arena Stage-Kogod Cradle, Washington DC
Through October 28th
$109 + fees
Reviewed August 26th, 2012
Okay, Bubbies….What is it about insane fathers that turns Texans into crusaders and muckrakers turning our worlds upside down and then going and dying just when we need our crusaders the most? Imagine, if Abe Zindler hadn’t been such a sumbitch, li’l Marvin would have just followed him into the family bidness; the Chicken Ranch might still be runnin’ and the rats and roaches would still be managing Houston’s finest dining establishments. If “General Jim” Ivins would have loved little Mary Tyler just a smidge, our little hellcat debutante might have gone off into a series of wrong, but prosperous, marriages and muckraked around the River Oaks Social Times (I made that up)…oh lordy, lordy…there’s blacks and Jews movin’ into River Oaks and we just installed another swimmin’ pool….we cain’t sell now….except to blacks or Jews and I thought we had rules forbiddin’ that. Who let them get so rich anyhoo?
Molly Ivins, nee Mary Tyler Ivins, was born an old soul. From her earliest girlhood she had the ability to see through people to their authentic cores and notice the hypocrisy around her. She was too young to articulate what she observed, so she reacted against it instead. That’s what little girls do. When she finally learned the words, she stepped off the path to country club eminence to pursue a journalistic vocation and used her literary skills to chase and catch the windmills of official corruption. I use the word vocation because Molly could have become wealthy using her talents for her own profit. Instead she eked out small livings at small newspapers and risked the good jobs she did have by telling epic truths. Every truth flowing from the nib of her pen, every keystroke on an old typewriter was another retort back to the father who wouldn’t show his love and who substituted verbal abuse for attention just as Molly used his offenses to fuel her rage at a corrupt political and social system. Molly Ivins left an agglomeration of real treasure…her words and her insights incorporated into Margaret and Allison Engel’s Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins at Arena Stage.
Molly lives again through Kathleen Turner and her one woman show at Arena Stage. Interestingly, Turner is also the daughter of a military man who didn’t quite understand her (as I read it) and she embodies the feisty, rebellious and compassionate woman who died too young and left not enough words to inspire a deluded populace who votes against itself and then complains about its delusions. Turner is stunning; unfortunately not enough folks outside of Texas know who Molly Ivins was and what she accomplished. Molly lived and died for The Texas Observer, a still small, independent muckraking rag taking on the establishmentarian, job outsourcing, polluting, offshore money concealing fat cats underwriting corporate journalism and political machinations. When Turner as Molly demands to know who in the audience reads, or has ever read The Texas Observer, only the Very Smart Prince and yours truly knew what she was talking about and our subscription is almost 40 years old. Forty-five years of abusing herself via alcohol, nicotine and basic self neglect left Molly fighting for her own life instead of the lives of her “beloveds” who need her now more than ever. I write this teary eyed because I loved Molly and what she stood for and followed her from paper to paper consuming her words and thoughts as the intellectual alimony sustaining me while I developed my own mind and point of view. I ponder the irony that the people who most need to read and hear Molly Ivins are precisely those who do not have $109.00 to spend on one brief show in a poncie, schmoncie theatre. Everyone laughed at the right spots in this monologue schtick; I don’t know if the audiences are cheering for Turner’s great performance (they better be) or are cheering for Turner’s righteous anger as she embodies a noble woman who sometimes lived a less than noble life (they should be).
Turner has not aged well in the traditional sense of the concept. She is large and she seems to have avoided injecting deadly toxins into her eyes because she can. She carries her life proudly on her frame and wears it on her face as she recreates the unkempt and unfashionable inner beauty of a woman who put others before herself. Turner’s wig, if that’s what it was, left some poor looking temples showing and I don’t know if that was intentional because that is how Molly wore her hair, the cancer that ravaged her or the wig is too small for Turner’s head. I know Molly loved her some cheap, farm wife, plaid house dresses for her formal wear; Turner’s boots were a little too clean-looking for the Molly everyone knew. But then again Turner is entertaining company and even Molly would have cleaned up her boots for that.
At the height of her notoriety Molly’s attacks on Texas fat cats so enraged the reactionary Dallas Morning News, that that paper bought her standard, The Dallas Times Herald, and shut it down faster than my mother could cruise the napoleons at a dessert buffet. Molly found her last home at the Fort Worth Star Telegram who knew a star when it saw one. Turner is the star who resurrects this great woman and broadcasts her voice far and wide. YAY for Kathleen Turner!!! Molly was angry and mal adjusted; Turner assumes that anger and mal adjustment for me and the rest of my shouting contemporaries hurling plain-spoken logic at rich schmegeggies and their political handmaidens. Yeah…I know that theatre needs those same schmegeggies (they were probably in the audience with us laughing away) to endow it so they can take great charitable tax deductions on top of the unconscionably low tax rates on their capital gains and other investment income; at least for the money they keep onshore. I think we should all incorporate ourselves as 501(c) corporations and solicit for free money from the fat cats who can then take those contributions to us great unwashed as charitable deductions. Now, there’s a win/win welfare scheme! I still am not reconciling Molly Ivins and $109.00 tickets to her re-embodiment when this whole concept is antithetical to everything she stood for. The only folks who can afford to see the re-embodiment of Molly Ivins are the same people who tried to shut her up in the first place….LMAO. But I think it necessary to do in order to assume a new mantle of righteous anger at the moral, financial and political corruption that is destroying the greatness of our country at the time we need integrity the most; though Molly understood the pact with the devil we must make in order to survive. Molly was a good ole gal.
Since I am a sucker for cheesy gift shops in absurd places, I would urge everyone to run to Arena Stage’s gift shop and pick up the two Molly Ivins books they have for sale. Teach your children to develop Molly’s keen eye for bull—-but warn them not to use her writing style on those government school tests they use to cut the teachers’ salaries. It will get them an unwanted IEP and you a trip to the local social services offices for official bad parenting.
My father loved me; it was mother who was iffy. Maybe that’s why I am a pathetic underachiever trying, at my advanced age, to accomplish something when, it turns out, that my Daddy guaranteed my failures via some good early daddying. Go figure……I think I want to ride with the nuns on the bus and memorialize Molly Ivins in the way that she would appreciate: some love, some mercy and some straight talk.
Also, do not forget, Bubbies, that fornication and its results and consequences…. and their alternatives, are the province of the rich who can choose whether they want voluntary or forcible. Molly is in Heaven hanging with her dog, Sh*t, screeching at the choir and howling to God and everyone at what has happened to us since she left us five years ago. Kathleen Turner is doing it for her. I hope you go see it and meet a great woman you never knew. It’s like seeing an unholy Texas rendition of Sister Mary Ignatious Explains it All to You only with cow poop on the boots.
Oh…. and by the by, I think it is important to add this because this is what critics do: the set is a pretty good pro forma newsroom left over from the “Lou Grant” era and there is an efficient little helper boychick (Nicholas Yenson) prancing in and out when the wire service bells go off. Rear screen projections add context and explanations to Turner’s prattling and the whole damn thing is just a great time and the bar is offering some really good tequila refreshment and I can’t imagine going back to Texas without Marvin Zindler and Molly Ivins to look after me. Oh! And she was offering us some good old Perl Beer to help us lubricate our conversation.
Texas has come to us. Let’s all go out and have good old time.
Photos by Mark Garvin
- Molly Ivins: Kathleen Turner
- Helper: Nicholas Yenson
- Director: Davis Esbjornson
- Artistic Producer: David Snider
- Stage Manager: Kurt Hall
- Technical Director: Scott Schreck
- Projection Designer: Maya Ciarrocchi
- Set Designer: John Arnone
- Costume Designer: Elizabeth Hope Clancy
- Wig Designer: Paul Huntley
- Lighting Designer: Daniel Ionazzi
- Original Music and Sound Designers: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen
- Property Master: Chuck Fox
Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8476.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.