Your enjoyment of the one-woman play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins will be directly proportional to your feelings about the man, who, when his face appears on the screen behind her during Stage West's production, Ivins (played by Georgia Clinton) knows simply from the audience reaction.
On opening night, there was a mixture of "oohhs" and "uhhhhs" and laughter, maybe a boo and a hiss or five. The character of Ivins, without even turning around to see him, growls "it's him, isn't it."
Of course it is.
Shrub, as she famously dubb(ya)ed him, is one of many politicians and folks (mostly men) in the firebrand liberal columnists' life and career who had a profound impact on her, indirectly teaching her how to stand out in a man's world, and giving her much fodder for her trademark Southern wit, hilariously railing against politicians of a certain stripe. Meaning, idiotic.
"If his I.Q. slips any lower," she famously said of one Texas congressman in the '80s, "we're going to have to water him twice a day."
The structure of Margaret and Allison Engel's play is a little too "and then this happened," as Ivins takes us through life that went from being a debutante in Houston to writing for the New York Times (she wrote Elvis Presley's obituary there, and quickly became irritated by copy editors, and editors) before moving to various newspapers, including the Dallas Times Herald, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Texas Observer. And although it's never mentioned, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was the final newspaper for which she wrote before her column was syndicated. She also wrote numerous books.
The play also goes out of its way to work in, as biographical shows must do, some of her own warts, including a period of alcoholism and her struggles in dealing with a staunchly conservative father, and then to her life-changing diagnosis of breast cancer, which contributed to her death in 2007. That's all part of her story, of course, but it sometimes feel shoehorned into this script.
But if the play feels too facile, Ivins' punchlines, taken directly from her feisty, slow-stinging columns, are what keep the laughs coming.
The play originated with Kathleen Turner in the role, and has been done in Austin and around the country. Its North Texas debut gets a solid production directed by Dana Schultes, on a simple set design by Jim Covault (her desk; a table with some knick-knacks, including a stuffed armadillo; an Associated Press Teletype Machine; and the video screen).
On opening night, Clinton was a scant flustered over some of the quick line delivery, but that's hopefully been ironed out by now. She captures the feistiness and passion of the larger-than-life character she plays, and nails the accent.
Another fella who appears on the screen gets an equal amount of audience reaction as Shrub does: the Texas governor who succeeded him and recently made an embarrassing run for the Republican presidential candidacy. It's clear that at the performance seen for this review, at least, the audience was solidly in Ivins' camp.
You just have to laugh when she asks "can you believe the GOP gave me this much material?"
One has to wonder what she would have written about the bumper crop of aggressively anti-reproductive rights, anti-gay rights, anti-Civil Rights politicians and tea partiers that have come out of the woodwork since Obama's election (her takes on Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann would've been priceless). But in the end, she offers a proactive final message.
Don't dwell on what she might have said, and instead focus your energy on how you should speak out against anyone who's anti-liberty.
What, you were expecting some other opinion?