Home > theater > Is Kathleen Turner (Doing Molly Ivins) Bloggable?

Is Kathleen Turner (Doing Molly Ivins) Bloggable?

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

To me, that sounds like a title that’s trying too hard to sell something; in this case, the product is a new play featuring Kathleen Turner as the late Ivins. It almost works.

I should start by saying that I’d noted the play’s world debut here in Philadelphia, but had resolved to skip it. When a theater-loving friend asked whether I wanted to catch it before it closed, I emailed this response:

I was put off from it by seeing Ms. Turner’s head-scratching performance in the unwatchable (except as train wreck) show “Tallulah!” which the [Philadelphia Inquirer] corrected described as “two hours of unrelieved tedium.” It was at the [Philadelphia] Academy [of Music] so that the psychological and emotional pain of the performance was complemented by the physical pain of having no leg room. And then a man in front of us had an apparent seizure and mumbled and lurched through the second act (he could have given the actors lessons). Oh, and an enormous matron in a floor-length fur tripped over it and sprawled down across the aisle right next to my seat.

So you’re saying this Molly Ivins turn is better?

I heard KT on WXPN last week, her low voice impossibly lower than ever. I wasn’t totally surprised, though, as I’d seen her in a show D sometimes watches, “Californication,” where it took me several minutes to recognize her qua Kathleen Turner. My less-than-sensitive question to David was: “Who’d she eat?” [He] loved her before “Tallulah!” and actually sat next to her at a cast party following her Philly performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” years ago. He described her as a kind of drag queen.

But, my friend assured me, this performance was entertaining — and, targeting my weakness, bloggable! He’d already seen it, and he has good taste in — and an apparently insatiable appetite for — entertainment.1 He linked to very positive reviews from the Inquirer and a couple of other reputable sources, surprisingly including this blog post by Paul Krugman (yes, that Paul Krugman):

Last night I went to see Red Hot Patriot, a one-woman show with Kathleen Turner as the late Molly Ivins (I was there along with a big ACLU contingent). To be honest, I was worried — the play could easily have been either too preachy or too cute. But it got the tone just right. And Kathleen Turner was awesome.

That’s almost the entire post, but, to wrench a dead (and therefore helpless to stop me) Walt Whitman out of context, it “contains multitudes.” Krugman’s right about everything. The play really isn’t too cute or too preachy, and Kathleen Turner seems to have waited her whole life for this kind of role. But it’s mostly successful as a kind of hagiographic reminder of Ivins and what people loved about her — especially the true believers, like Krugman himself and the “ACLU contingent.” Beyond that, though, what does it have to offer?

Some great one-liners, for starters. Here are a couple of favorites:

  • When a legal challenge was brought against a nativity scene in front of the Texas State House, then-Governor Ann Richards said: “Oh, just leave it alone. That’s the closest three wise men will ever get to the Texas legislature.
  • As a columnist (with one of the many papers for which she wrote; I lost track), she once said of a legislator that, if his IQ slipped any lower, “we’ll have to water him twice a day.”
  • We were of course reminded that it was Ivins — not Richards — who coined the devastatingly apt term “Shrub” to describe W.

But the play, despite the talent of its lead actor and the great lines that the subject had already written for them, lacks dramatic tension and independent narrative structure. This Bloomberg review has it just right, and puts voice to the gnawing feeling I had while watching:

I wish there were more color in twins Allison Engel and Margaret Engel’s playwriting. They’re journalists with affection for their subject but no clue as to how a play — even one where so many lines were already written — gets built.

That affection counts for something, and a staccato, ninety-minute burst of energy is worth a weekday evening out. But I didn’t really get to know Ivins any better: She was a very smart, acerbic, liberal Texan with conservative parents. What was under that skin and wit, though?

  1. The one significant blemish on his record is his so-so reaction to “Glee.”
  1. June 29th, 2010 at 01:52 | #1

    Californication is great too and involves lots of sexy stuff in this tv series.-;:

  1. No trackbacks yet.