THEATER | DANCE | CLASSICAL MUSIC | OPERA | COMEDY

NORTH TEXAS PERFORMING ARTS NEWS

REVIEWS

Barbara Chisholm as Molly Ivins

Review: Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins | Zach Theatre


Red, Hot and Blue

In Austin, Barbara Chisholm captures the spirit of fiery columnist Molly Ivins.



published Monday, January 31, 2011

As strains of Willie Nelson’s plaintive tune “Stay All Night (Stay a  Little Longer)” strum in the dark, lights come up on an almost bare three-quarter thrust stage. Tad off center left, a tall, raw-boned woman with a full mane of tawny hair rears back in a grey utilitarian rolling office chair behind a grey utilitarian metal desk piled randomly with pens, paper, coffee cups and an old manual typewriter. 

The simple block letter sign shoved to the front of the desk’s cascade of debris reads Molly Ivins. Frustrated, pissed off, the statuesque woman bemoans her inability to come up with printable words to fill the clean sheet of paper waiting in the carriage. “Sonofabitch,” she exclaims in disgust and hauls herself up to pace the stage like a caged lioness, a Texas-styled Amazon in jeans and red cowboy boots. She’s sharing a vulnerable moment. Molly Ivins with writer’s block? Imagine that. 

Even an Olympian can experience an occasional mental lapse like regular folk. 

Right off the bat, Margaret and Allison Engel’s Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, having its Texas premiere at Austin’s Zach Theatre, thrusts its audience directly into the personal reality of its intimidating, iconic heroine of a subject.

Very little speechifying from a pedestal exists in this play, which lasts a bit more than 90 minutes without intermission. Award-winning journalists, themselves, with long track records in a tough-to-survive-in business, the Engel sister playwright duo bypasses any inclination to cheapen the work with maudlin deification, still allowing the larger than life aspirations and accomplishments of their amazing subject to shine through with her gritty, irreverent, often besotted persona intact. For the most part they succeed, even when the cinematic nature of the performance feels slightly awkward on stage. 

Molly, or her spirit essence, exists in some sort of timeless, sparse office limbo “now,” sharing key episodes and moments of special impact to her life, both inner and outer, in retrospect. She unfolds her tale casually and confidentially, addressing the audience directly in episodic fashion, with iron-willed, steel-eyed clarity and relentless honesty.  On an upstage scrim, magnified black and white photographs of Molly, her family, her dog “Shit,” special associates and politicos and shots from 1960s newspaper life flash by (scenic design is by John Arnone; video design by Maya Ciarrocchi). 

Molly refers to them proudly or wistfully, as if it were all part of a planned presentation. A generic office copy boy (Gray Randolph) in 60s attire functions as the catalyst for scene change and occasional humorous relief, pulling sheets off an old-fashioned AP wire machine and handing them to Molly deadpan fashion, in transition to the next episode or beat. On screen, this device would flow smoothly; here, it becomes repetitive and makes some scene shifts feel cumbersome, illogical.

The Zach Theatre’s production of Red Hot Patriot thrives under the much-lauded direction of David Esbjornson, who directed and co-created the original production in 2010 at The Philadelphia Theatre Company, which featured Kathleen Turner as Molly Ivins. “We used much of Molly’s writing but also had to imagine her in the present as she might have been if she were still among us,” Esbjornson writes in the director’s notes.

The Zach’s open thrust space suits the multi-media presentational style of the piece. In Austin’s Barbara Chisholm, Esbjornson cast an actor who brilliantly sustains the artistic arc of the piece while creating an unforgettable, realistic portrayal of an American legend. Dripping with brazen charisma and bravado, Chisholm tosses off Molly’s rattler-sharp barbs like she was born to it. 

In the next moment, she retreats inward to become the deeply wounded daughter of “The General” (her perfectionist dad who commits suicide), the devastated sweetheart of a brilliant biologist killed in Vietnam, or the populist journalist sounding alarm, adrift in a contentious sea of male political incompetence and graft. To those who knew the woman, herself, Chisholm’s Molly must feel like a most welcome ghost. For those of us who adored her through her writing, Chisholm embodies the essence of the Molly whose words resonate so deeply in our hearts and minds.

Editor's Note: A full version of this review is on CriticalRant.com, which is a TheaterJones media partner. Thanks For Reading





Dates, Prices, & Other Details

View the Article Slideshow

Comment on this Article

Share this article on Social Media
Click or Swipe to close
Red, Hot and Blue
In Austin, Barbara Chisholm captures the spirit of fiery columnist Molly Ivins.
by Alexandra Bonifield

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Snowflakes Watertower Theatre Blue Candlelight Bruce Wood Dance Project Application Pending Ballet Frontirs of Texas John Uptown Players Texas In Paris UNT Dance and Theatre Open Classicial Plaid Tidings Dallas Opera
Gobsmacked
Click or Swipe to close
reviews
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
audiocasts
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
contests
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
crowdfunding
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
studio
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web



Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:


Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:


TheaterJones Section:


Category:
Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Search
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  



Your Name:
Your Email Adress:


please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :
Submit