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Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Those wishing columnist Molly Ivins (1944-2007) could cast her caustic, gimlet eye on the GOP primary doings will likely be drawn like a magnet to the Geffen's "Red Hot Patriot," with Kathleen Turner reprising her Philly turn as the lonely liberal from the Lone Star State.

Molly Ivins - Kathleen Turner
Helper - Matthew Van Oss

Those wishing columnist Molly Ivins (1944-2007) could cast her caustic, gimlet eye on the GOP primary doings will likely be drawn like a magnet to the Geffen’s “Red Hot Patriot,” with Kathleen Turner reprising her Philly turn as the lonely liberal from the Lone Star State. Ivins was an entertaining force of nature irrespective of one’s politics, but Margaret and Allison Engel’s text doesn’t exactly throw red meat to blue staters. And the star does better by the heart than by the “kick-ass wit” of the fearless cheerleader for civil liberties in the land of football and oil money.

Every monodrama needs a rationale, and the Engels’ is more logical than many. When we meet Ivins, she’s trying to end a column — one in praise of her beloved, lifelong debating nemesis, her right-winger daddy. Blocked and antsy, she does what millions of scribes have done before her: kill time by thinkin’. Hence the justification for 75 minutes of musing over life and career highlights.

The text is composed of one part reminiscence; one part exhortation to the audience to become involved citizens instead of passive patsies to the special interests; and two or three parts Molly Ivins’ greatest hits, meaning a string of one-liners. Re why she’s not furious when a corrupt official’s widow is acquitted of his murder: “In Texas, we don’t like to punish people for public service.”

The zingers, though amusing, don’t amount to any kind of sustained indictment of anyone or anything, not even the fish-in-a-barrel of our previous president whom she takes credit for dubbing “Shrub.”

Moreover, Turner’s characteristically choppy delivery — bursts of talk broken up by pauses in illogically placed places — makes a hash of the droller punch lines, and works against any sense of Pecos drawl. Where Ivins’ flowing, measured delivery conveyed iron conviction in every raised-eyebrow observation, Turner’s Ivins works too hard and comes across as desperate.

What Turner excels at are the heartbreak points: the absence of a long-term relationship in her life; regret over the sloppy drinking; sadness (albeit mixed with pride) at her Quixotic quest to knock some sense into the right heads; above all, sorrow at the waste of Vietnam and Iraq.

Helmer David Esbjornson gives her plenty of opportunities to stop and mourn, and plenty of motivation in the acutely chosen projections from her scrapbook, some seemingly doctored up to include Turner’s Ivins in scenes from midcentury America.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 522 seats; $87 top

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation of a play in one act by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel. Directed by David Esbjornson.

Creative: Sets, John Arnone; costumes, Elizabeth Hope Clancy; lighting, Daniel Ionazzi; sound/composition, Robert Milburn, Michael Bodeen; projections, Maya Ciarrocchi. Opened, reviewed Jan. 11, 2012. Runs through Feb. 12. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast: Molly Ivins - Kathleen Turner
Helper - Matthew Van Oss

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