'Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins'
Molly Ivins departed this world three years ago, but next week she returns to life as big, outspoken, and hellaciously smart and funny as ever, thanks to the miracle of the stage. Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins is a one-woman show getting its world premiere at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in the City of Brotherly Love starting March 19, with none other than Kathleen Turner filling the feisty journalist's ass-kicking boots. (Wonder what choice comment Molly would have about the casting?) Thanks for Molly's return must go to Margaret and Allison Engel, twin sisters who are both journalists and such admirers of Ivins that when they learned of her passing, they resolved to honor her through the theatre. While this is their first play, Allison has a master's in screenwriting, and the two have had the good fortune to have the play developed at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., with top talent, including Turner and acclaimed director David Esbjornson (Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?). The Chronicle caught up with the Engels by telephone to learn more about the project. Naturally, they'd love to see a future production in Austin.
Austin Chronicle: Much of your material came from Molly's actual writings, but you also had to put words that you'd written into Molly's mouth. How did you find her voice?
Margaret Engel: I think it came to us simply from immersion. When you read dozens of books and hundreds and hundreds of columns, you start to see her speech patterns. Sometimes one of us would write something and the other would say, "What column was that in?" and the other one would say, "No, no, I wrote that." When we got to that point, we knew that maybe we were ...
Allison Engel: Coming close.
AC: What do you most want people to take away from this play?
Margaret: That Molly truly was a patriot. That's something of an old-fashioned term, but she talked about handing over the country to the next generation, and she knew the Constitution, and she knew the Declaration of Independence. These weren't affectations. These were central to her core. One of the things we try to get across is that not only in her writing was she very much a patriot but also in her public speaking, in the speeches all across the country in small towns and in places where there were book bannings and problems with the First Amendment. She would get on a plane and go just about anywhere and speak, and she did this for years and years and years, and I think a lot of people were not aware of that.
Allison: And how public a citizen she was. The amount of time that she devoted to college students, the Conference on World Affairs, the ACLU, and that is in addition to all of her hard work for The Texas Observer and all the newspapers she worked for.
AC: As you wrote the play, how did being in such deep contact with that sensibility change you?
Allison: It underscored the power of one and how rarely people do what she did.
Margaret: She was even more remarkable because she was able to be prescient on a national scale from Austin, Texas. She wasn't in New York. She wasn't in Washington, D.C. It's very difficult to be heard when you're not in the Northeast corridor.
AC: Has it inspired you in any new way in your own profession?
Margaret: Not that we would even attempt to follow in her footsteps, but we were inspired by her while we were writing this, and we became more convinced of how important it is that her words and her memory be kept alive. Sometimes when I speak to journalism classes, I ask them about different journalists, and it chills me if anyone hasn't read her. We want people to value her immense talents. When we started, we were thinking of Mark Twain and Will Rogers and how one-man plays about those two have continued on for decades. We're hoping this might do the same for her.
For more information, visit www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.