If you can’t help but sing the title of this review (in your head, at least) to the melody of the opening theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, you probably know who Molly Ivins was. If you’re asking yourself what The Mary Tyler Moore Show is, you’re likely too young for discoteques, parachute pants or Molly Ivins to have much meaning for you. With the first two, you’re not missing out on a whole lot. With the last, you’re being criminally culturally deprived.
Mary Tyler “Molly” Ivins was a legendary American journalist far too few have heard of. Though she garnered her fair share of notoriety and praise over the course of her long and productive career, her populist, anti-government message was so cogently thought out and entertainingly presented that it deserves wider acknowledgment. Hell, it should be taught in civics classes in high schools across the land.
Red Hot Patriot — The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, written by sisters Margaret and Allison Engel, honors Molly’s life and does a bang-up job of keeping her insouciant, incisive observations about the American political system and the foibles of life in general alive and interesting. This essentially one-woman show gives us Molly in all her drinkin’, smokin’, cursin’, rootin’, tootin’ outlaw brilliance, and it is not to be missed.
This Pulitzer Prize-nominated and widely praised bio-play excels on two very important levels. First and foremost, it is a roadhouse full of good times. The laughs, mostly thanks to the satirical genius of Molly’s own words, come one after another in a steady flow from beginning to end. Second, it extends Molly’s legacy of challenging the status quo and exhorting the governed to hold their leaders accountable.
Molly realized and had the courage to declare that anyone who thinks that politics in this country is about liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, has been hornswoggled. They’re missing the point entirely. All the people who’ve bought into the Left versus Right fallacy fail to see that it’s really about the haves versus the have-nots. It’s about a tiny minority of exceedingly wealthy people — the political elite — using government to line their pockets and those of their friends and families. Both sides practice big government tax and spend, and they do it at the expense of the rest of us, the vast majority of the citizenry who sit idly by and let it happen year after year. This pissed Molly right the hell off.
Rhonda Brown plays Molly Ivins, and her performance is sublime. She is joined on stage for a few moments by The Helper (Rhea Amos), who serves as sort of a silent staging device, but otherwise Brown stands alone in the spotlight from curtain to curtain. She seems so at home in Ivins’ skin that the line between actor and character dissolves immediately and completely. You feel as though you are hearing and seeing Molly herself in all her firebrand glory. In Red Hot Patriot, Brown is the definition of award-worthy.
Director Brian Freeland, along with Lighting Designer Jacob Welch and Scenic Designer David Lafont, use an array of white sheets above the stage to project images throughout the play. When Molly reminisces about family members, mentors and nemeses, their images appear to float above her. The effect is both subtle and striking.
The LIDA Project is known for its avant-garde, experimental theater offerings, and its efforts have yielded both great triumphs and misses by miles over the years. With Red Hot Patriot, LIDA proves it can produce plays that challenge and impress in a more traditional structure and presentation.
I truly hope that Red Hot Patriot sells out every one of its performances. Molly’s message to fight the power and take back the country is more on point and critical than ever. That this play conveys that call to arms in such an enjoyable, invigorating way places it in a rarefied realm, indeed.
Red Hot Patriot is presented by the LIDA Project at the Dairy Center for the Arts through Nov. 30. Tickets are $15-$35. For tickets or information, call 303-444-7328 or visit www.thedairy.org.