Kathleen Turner is the star of Arena Stage's "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins," which chronicles the writer's journey.
The play opens with Turner at a desk. Her feet, in red cowboy boots, are irreverently propped up on her desk. She's struggling to write an obituary for her dying father. When the real Molly Ivins sat down to write that column, she got the news 20 minutes later that her father had shot himself. The play zeroes in on that 20 minute gap. In the play, Ivins' life story unfolds in that expanded 20 minutes, before concluding with her own epilogue.
Ivins' story is told in a series of personal anecdotes during a monologue that feels more like a conversation on a front porch with some combination of your favorite aunt and the person you want to be when you grow up.
Images from her life flash against the stage backdrop and AP bulletins arrive, guiding the story through various chapters of her story: the early days in all-male newsrooms; her travels on the "progressive underground railroad" as a reporter for the Texas Observer; being "declawed and neutered" at the hands of the New York Times; then returning to Texas to write whatever she damn well pleased for the Dallas Times Herald; becoming a best-selling author ("arthur" in Ivins' Texas drawl) and nationally syndicated columnist; through alcoholism, breast cancer, and finally, her death in 2007.
In a letter for the ACLU, Ivins once wrote, "Every time someone down the line is irreverent about authority, I'll have my monument."
Likewise, this play is a call to action. Ivins, brought back to life by the Engel sisters, exhorts the audience to carry on her legacy of "helpin' folk be a pain in the ass to those in power."