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It was at the family dinner table that Molly Ivins first distinguished herself as a thorn in the saddle of authority. In her opposition to her conservative father (affectionately or impertinently known, depending on who's speaking, as "General Jim"), she found her voice.
Ivins became a nationally syndicated columnist known for her unique brand of populist wit, down-home metaphors and provocative political commentary.
In Arena Stage's production of "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins," screen and stage icon Kathleen Turner thoroughly captures Ivins' feisty persona, her wide smile and the cadence of her quick-witted Texas drawl.
Ivins rejected her privileged upbringing in favor of making ends meet as a rabble-rousing liberal journalist in a predominantly conservative state. She told NPR's Terry Gross in October 2007 that the issue of race was what first got her to question the worldview of her parents.
But she couldn't resist the "pleasant open vulgarity" of Texans and considered her love of her home state a "harmless perversion."
Onstage, the character of Ivins describes her writing as "mostly back talk I wish I'd said to my father."
Ivins was a graduate of Smith College who studied in Paris and spoke three languages but preferred to use "words with more salt and chili on them." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman portrayed her in a 2007 piece as a satirist with a purpose, not just to be clever but to hold the powerful accountable. Humor was her carrot and her stick; through laughter she engaged the disaffected reader and punished the powerful.
First-time playwrights and twin-sister journalists Margaret and Allison Engel created "Red Hot Patriot" from Ivins' own writing, interviews and speeches, and from conversations with her friends and colleagues. The dialogue is peppered with Ivins' saltiest one-liners ("If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day"), her infamous nicknames ("Shrub" for President George W. Bush) and quirky country-fried metaphors ("as obvious as balls on a tall dog").
The stage is uncluttered, each object carefully chosen to convey some aspect of Ivins' personality or facilitate the telling of her story.
Office desks and chairs are haphazardly piled in the background, perhaps symbolizing various phases of her career. A silent copy boy occasionally appears to deliver Associated Press bulletins from a teletype machine. In the foreground, Ivins' messy desk is piled with papers, a typewriter and a taxidermied armadillo.
Alone on stage, Turner fully occupies the space, embodying Ivins' larger-than-life stature (she was nearly 6 feet tall) and persona. The only unfortunate detail is what appears to be Turner's terrible wig or streaky dye job.