A Love Letter to the General: “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass wit of Molly Ivins”

Photo by Mark S. Howard. MacDonald with Shrub.

Photo by Mark S. Howard. MacDonald with Shrub.

Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
By Margaret Engel & Allison Engel
Directed by Courtney O’Connor

Jan. 2 – 31, 2015
Boston, MA
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Molly Ivins on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) I’ve already purchased my ticket to see Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass wit of Molly Ivins again. This show is so good that writing a review isn’t enough*. I want the Lyric to have my money.

Molly Ivins is famous for being a journalistic Texan and for warning the American people about the dangers of electing the Georges Bush to public office. She was happiest writing/living in Texas but worked long enough at the New York Times to know that her proud, Liberal exuberance was best suited to the South. Red Hot Patriot is a mostly one-woman show starring Karen MacDonald about Ivins’ passion and bite, her career in journalism, family, writing philosophy, and her relationship to General Jim, her Daddy. Ivins’ was a freedom fighter against racism, sexism, classism and just about any other injustice systematically enforced by the US government. She was like a Texan Dorothy Parker (Parker rallied for Communism in the 50’s and left her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr.) and an inspiration.

MacDonald’s portrayal of Ivins bumrushes the audience with spitfire sass, playful joy and sweet sincerity. She weaves this high energy yarn by the ladies Engel without hesitation. We are as emotionally connected to MacDonald as she is to the stage and script. She has us firmly in the palm of her hand as she skips merrily from anecdote to editorial quote and back again. Her twang is so syrupy and loyal that we’re ready to forgive whatever happened to her hair. It’s a good, thorough romp she leads us on.

MacDonald shares the stage with a copy boy played by Jacob Athyal.
Two things:
1. Athyal conveys much with a character that doesn’t speak a single line. Bravo.
2. I greatly appreciate that O’Connor didn’t fill his role with a handy dandy White extra. There are plenty of those in Boston. Thank you for not taking the easy way out.

The sensitive lighting design Katharine Burkhart cradles MacDonald like a golden halo. An especially nice touch was the simulated sunset near the close of the production.

A significant portion of Red Hot Patriot is indirectly about Ivins’ (Karen MacDonald) relationship with The General. Yes, he was a staunch conservative Republican and she was a bleeding heart Liberal but they shared the same fervor and took the same approach to politics: vigorous rage. The General taught her how to argue loudly and pointedly. She took his teachings to the Texas newspapers.

Her career as a political journalist could be loosely interpreted as a love letter to her Dad. She was rebelling against her republican upbringing in the most convenient and effective way she knew how. She’s lucky she was able to make a career of it. It’s not everyday one can work through their family issues in public (Hi Mom!).

Red Hot Patriot has little to no 4th wall. Ivins speaks directly to the audience and sometimes expects a response from us. The staging is simple; MacDonald walks the stage in circles between different organic seating arrangements and back again. What makes this production brilliant is MacDonald’s devotion to milking the text and her delivery to the audience. Several times Ivins reminds the audience that words have meaning beyond what we intend when we communicate across a page. They will morph to the writer’s meaning and settle around a reader’s preconceived notions. Writing “the truth” is tricky business. MacDonald’s telling of the truth makes for an emotional joyride.

*Please see the NETG reviewing policy.

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