Try as it might, “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-ass Wit of Molly Ivins” just can’t break out of that theatrical trap that clamps down on so many one-person plays.
You know what I’m talking about: that monologue matrix of “then I did this” followed by “and then I did that.” And even though the solid presentation by the Boca Raton-based Women’s Theatre Project and the sealed-tight direction by Genie Croft go a long way to help out a miraculous Barbara Bradshaw in the title role, it just doesn’t feel like the script is up to their efforts.
Written by twins Margaret and Allison Engel, “Red Hot Patriot” certainly gives you plenty of the wit and wisdom of the newspaper columnist and "60 Minutes" commentator who blazed a trail through Texas as a firebrand liberal known for her slicey-dicey tongue and acid-drenched humor. Much of it seems to be lifted directly from the columns Ivins wrote during tenures at “The Texas Observer,” “The New York Times” and “The Dallas Times Herald.”
The Engels open the play with Ivins laboring to write a column about her father. She can’t get past the first sentence, so she procrastinates a bit and recounts struggles with family, booze, loss, gender barriers and breast cancer (which took Ivins’ life in 2007 at age 62). Bradshaw mines magic from what easily could have come off as tired-ass instead of kick-ass, gracefully injecting drama in the 75-minute play with no intermission.
This isn’t entirely a one-woman-show. Joseph Franklin appears as a copy boy/helper, in a silent role that’s a bit of a waste. Just a little dialogue would ease the weight on Bradshaw’s capable shoulders and give some definition to the walk-on part. If the Engel sisters meant for him to signify something significant (the ghost of newspapers past; the embodiment of a pre-digital newsroom; a young grim reaper), it is lost.
Aside from the ending, which abandons all pretense of theater to become more of a sermon, it is fascinating to listen to Ivins’ best bon mots delivered by a consummate actress, even if much of the columnist’s fodder is peculiar to the litterbox of Texas politics.
For example, she sums up George W. Bush — whom she denigrates with the moniker “Shrub” — by saying, “Instead of a thousand points of light, we got one dim bulb.” Or she offers a coda on a litany of battles with sexist editors, racist editors, insipid editors with, “Editors are mice training to be rats.”
“Red Hot Patriot” includes many such lines, one after another, all of them funny. They alone are worth the price of admission. If only those gems were presented in a better setting of a script.
IF YOU GO:
“Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins”
Where: The Willow Theatre at Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton
Contact: 561-347-3948 or WomensTheatreProject.com.