Monday, January 12, 2015

Lyric Stage Company of Boston Presents "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" - A Poignant and Timely Look at Journalistic Freedom

When Lyric Stage Company of Boston Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos chose to incorporate "Red Hot Patriot" into the 2014-2015 season, he would have had no way of predicting just how poignant and timely this play would be in the wake of the recent Paris terrorist attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.  One way of looking at it is that "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" by Margaret and Allison Engel, is a tribute to the power of independent journalism that dares to speak uncomfortable words that no one else dares speak.  In a sense, the Lyric is offering its own version of "Je suis Charlie"!  If Molly were still with us, she would intone those words with her distinctive Texas drawl.

Molly Ivins was born to a family with plenty of Texas oil money and deeply conservative political roots and philosophy.  She dutifully followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother to attend Smith College, where she learned to be her own person.  She left the reservation, declaring her independence from her father - The General -  and began a writing career.  Throughout her career she simultaneously challenged the world-class stupidity of so-called public servants, while personally falling prey to the stupefying effects of alcohol.

Her career took her from small time Texas newspapers and fringe magazines all the way to the New York Times and 60 Minutes.  She would not allow herself and her sense of outrage to be stifled or neutered, so she was often fired for being too politically volatile.

In this dramatic encapsulation of Ms. Ivins' life and career, The Engels have culled many of Molly's own words and wrapped them around vignettes that allow the audience to learn the back story of many of Molly's columns and life episodes.  Directed by Courtney O'Connor, the irrepressible Karen MacDonald inhabits the ethos of Ivins without falling into caricature or too broad a mimicry of her speech patterns. With the exception of a few unnecessary scenes in which a Helper (Jacob Athyal) silently enters and rips off a page from the teletype AP wire machine, Ms. MacDonald is alone on stage throughout the production - a Lone Star, if you will.

Karen MacDonald* as Molly Ivins *member of Actors' Equity Association

Photo by Mark S. Howard
The magic of Karen MacDonald's performance here is that she portrays this tough woman - about as emotionally accessible as the armadillo she keeps on her desk - as someone about whom we come to care.  We care about the person and about the causes she espouses, to the point where it does not feel forced when Molly speaks to the audience from beyond the grave imploring us to involve ourselves in the political process as engaged citizens.  This is a powerful performance that deserves to be seen by as broad an audience as possible.

Her work is enhanced and aided by the fine Projections of Jonathan Carr, Lighting of Chris Brusberg, Costume by Sarie Gessner, Scenic Design by Katherine Burkhart and Sound Design by Chris Kurtz.

"Red Hot Patriot" will run through January 31.



Lyric Stage Website

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