Molly Ivins raised hell. She couldn’t abide slackers and self-serving politicians—and she had a platform to rail about injustice. She excoriated the incompetent and self-righteous in her books and newspaper articles. She got away with it thanks to her considerable Southern charm. Even when the New York Times canned her (for her candor) she didn’t miss a beat. She had charisma to spare and late night television loved her Texas spunk.
Two journalists, Margaret Engel & Allison Engel, penned the one-woman show called RED HOT PATRIOT: THE KICK-ASS WIT OF MOLLY IVINS (up @ Lyric Stage through Jan. 31st) to pay tribute to the late political satirist and fearless muckraker. (The play has a second character to bring Ivins the fast breaking wires from Associated Press but this is Karen MacDonald’s show).
RED HOT PATRIOT should be a tour de force but curiously, the Lyric production starts on a pretty low key with Ivins ruminating about the subject of an article. She calls it “letting the idea steep.” Unfortunately the play steeps for too long. Now I presume director Courtney O’Connor wanted to build intensity in the piece by starting out slowly but “Kick-Ass” is in the title for heaven sakes. We need to see Molly kicking it from the get-go. If you don’t lasso the audience right up front, as Molly might have said, they’ll slip away from you.
Perhaps if she had entered with a cowboy hat (She’s wearing the boots) and some metaphorical guns a-blazing, we’d be more than happy to hop on for the ride but the tepid material doesn’t heat up until pretty late in 75 minute show. The Engels drop lots of names and repeat lots of Ivins’ pithy quotes (like “the trouble with Baptists is they don’t hold ‘em under water long enough”) but there’s no story there…and no fire.
Here’s what works: When Mac Donald sits astride a chair to give us “a history lesson,” she’s excited and engaged and so are we. And it’s a nice touch when Ivins hears her beloved, departed dog calling her. (It reminded me of the recent “controversial” headlines from Pope Francis about animals going to heaven.) What did not work for me is the paraphrase of Tom Joad’s “Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there” or the peculiar, intrusive background music intended to punch up a scene.
Ivins famously mocked the news business for “thriving on the weird, the astonishing and the absurd.” Maybe that’s what’s lacking in the Engels’ play: It’s too ordinary. I remember what she looked and sounded like (on TV) and I’m sure that makes it much harder for an actor. She had both democrats and republicans eating out of her hand. I would like to have heard how she did it. But that’s just one opinion.