Take That, Scott Walker @ Stage West

Georgia Clinton as Texas’ leading LIBERAL journalist. Buddy Myers photo

Stage West responds to its audiences and extends Red Hot Patriot: the Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins 6/22-24

Stage West is pleased to announce that it has a new box office record-holder with its production of Red Hot Patriot, the Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, by Margaret Engel and Allison Engel. The show has been selling out almost every performance, and few seats remain for the original final week of June 14-17.  Three more performances added!

Red Hot Patriot will now also play Friday, June 22 and Saturday, June 23 at 8:00, and Sunday June 24 at 3:00.  Food service will be available 90 minutes prior to performances (reservations are necessary), including the Friday night Prix Fixe Special ($38 for dinner, bev, dessert and show).

Note:  all tickets are priced at $28, no discounts available for this show.    Reservations and information are available through the Box Office (817-784-9378), or on the website, www.stagewest.org.

The curtain speech may inspire outrage and Georgia Clinton doesn’t exactly recreate Molly; but what the heck, after Wisconsin, you need a breath of honest fresh air and a brandy snifter’s worth of the wisdom & wit of Texas’ greatest LIBERAL  truth-teller….

           Original review of show:

Stage West CAN produce a play about a LIBERAL, can’t it?

Molly Ivins: journalist, populist, humorist (August 30, 1944 – January 31, 2007)

Producing a work of art (like Margaret and Allison Engel’s “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins”) offers no threat to anybody’s non-profit status. What would compromise  a 501.c3 company like Stage West‘s status would be a blatant candidate or campaign endorsement, soliciting votes or money for a political cause or entity, fundraising for a candidate or party…not producing a work of art that reflects a particular point of view. Production director and Stage West staff member Dana Schultes did not appear to hear the spontaneous expressions of dismay and outrage throughout the audience when she gave the curtain speech at the performance I attended. She seemed to actually apologize for producing a fantasy play about Texas’ most famous journalist, an ardent, eloquent advocate for peace, justice and free speech. Apologizing because Molly’s politics were liberal? Ashamed to be associated with her, somehow? And then Schultes said it was okay to produce the play because some conservatives who came to one performance enjoyed it (or words to that effect). Wow. When did they become the arbiters of art? As long as they liked it, it’s okay for the rest of us poor, ignorant, liberal slobs to watch it, but apologies, anyway? That’s how the curtain speech came across, however intended.  Karl Rove and Dick Cheney would have just LOVED it.  I pay attention to audiences; around me I heard all sorts of muttered protests, gasps and grumbling (“No way!” exclaimed a few patrons). People, comprising an almost full house on a Sunday afternoon, came to hear/see the “wit and wisdom” of liberal icon Molly Ivins, not witness a director offer an apology for producing a play about her. When questioned later, Schultes said the curtain speech was “just a joke”. Well, nobody sitting near me was laughing. The play is a fantasy portrayal of a character, based on a real person, as an on stage ghost. It’s not a political treatise, advocating any one viewpoint, political party or candidate. It presents a creative perspective about a dynamic, unique woman, who happened to be liberal. If Stage West produced a one man play about William F. Buckley, would they apologize for presenting his conservative viewpoints?  Doubt it. The only element that smacks of ” bias” is the program advertisement to support The Texas Observer (a decidedly liberal political magazine). Does Stage West really actively endorse The Texas Observer? That ought to piss off some conservatives….
I don’t recall any Stage West pre-show apology before “November” for portraying the US president as a bigoted, selfish opportunist. No apology at “New Jerusalem” for showing Dutch Jews as tyrannical, inflexible and discriminatory. No apology at Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” for his satirizing the military and the elite and making fun of the rise of the merchant class. No apology at “Copenhagen” for portraying a despicable Nazi in a favorable light…and no reason to! They were all works of art, just like “Red Hot Patriot” is. At the play’s end, the playwrights have Molly urge the audience to seek truth and not to be afraid to speak their minds (she doesn’t specify a liberal truth or mindset, either). So I’m speaking mine. ” What you need is sustained outrage…there’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority.” Molly Ivins
I love Stage West for producing shows that encourage audiences to engage, think, speak and act. Theatre is a LIVELY, thought-provoking art when this company performs. They should be PROUD to produce this play. It dishonors Molly Ivin’s work and memory, diminishes the play’s impact, to apologize for its content…as though it were something to be ashamed of? As if Molly Ivins was someone to be ashamed of? It’s not often that a curtain speech reduces me to tears and keeps the floodgates open for the next 24 hours. Go ahead. Call me a humorless liberal curmudgeon.

Georgia Clinton as Molly Ivins at Stage West

About the Stage West production of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins”: As a Houston debutante, Molly Ivins stood out from the crowd. Her mother described her as “a Saint Bernard among Greyhounds.” Molly was a statuesque gal (6’2″), with broad shoulders, a wide grin and a wild shock of auburn hair. She had a larger than life presence that only grew bigger as life taught her its lessons and she arm-wrestled its challenges with style and grit. Her journalistic writing — evocative, provocative, acerbic, impassioned, witty — earned and lost her employment with distinguished national media. A St John’s prep school and Seven Sisters college graduate (Smith) with deeply-held populist beliefs, she used her educated patrician sensibility like a double-barreled shotgun in avid defense of non-patrician causes. “Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she?” Indeed, she said what she pleased, shouted her truth from rooftops, sleazy bars, speaker podiums, weekly print columns and popular books.

Anyone who attempts to capture on stage the span of a life of the dimension and scope of Molly Ivins’ faces a daunting task.  Margaret and Allison Engel’s one-act play strives hard to please its audience and often succeeds. Molly appears as a ghost of sorts, struggling to write a column about her father, whom she often fought with but always loved. In conjunction with rear wall still photo projections inspired by occasional  updates spat out by an old AP wire machine presided over by a silent young man (Justin Rhoads), Molly offers a home movie-style overview of her life. She mixes documented public anecdotes with well-known, beloved quotes and tidbits of personal information. In some ways, the work feels like a film script in search of a producer and seems disjointed and contrived as a stage play. To make this a vibrant production, the play needs a strong, charismatic Molly. Its setting needs to combine the rhetorical dream state of a famous, reflective ghost with the workmanlike world of a sharp-tongued newspaper reporter confounded with writer’s block while writing a particularly challenging column effectively. The Stage West production is adequate but not exemplary in both aspects.

Georgia Clinton is a solid actress with a distinguished performance record; but she is a tiny lady, not particularly well cast here and not directed to go for the magnetic, powerful presence that leaps out from the upstage photo projections. She never inhabits Molly or the playing space with the Olympic-sized abandon and physical command of a “Saint Bernard among Greyhounds”. Her voice never booms, never brims with moral outrage, never crackles with affection or disgust. She’s more nostalgic schoolmarm than hard-drinking, rogue reporter. At times her accent seems matronly Southern genteel rather than twangy, booze-husky Houston drawl. She delivers a pleasant performance but never really becomes Molly Ivins. Occasionally, she drifts off the stage and meanders along the apron in front of the audience. Molly Ivins neither drifted nor meandered in her life….and what a shame to omit the signature red cowboy boots from Molly’s costume.

In the play, Molly laughingly makes it clear that her desk is a slovenly, expanding, cluttered mess, reflective of her life. The demure desk in Stage West’s production hovers unobtrusively upstage left and is notable only for its orderly starkness. No old coffee cups, precarious stacks of books and jumbled personal memorabilia, no cascading melee of paper, no half-consumed booze bottles rattling around. When the silent young man packs up Molly’s typewriter and belongings at play’s end, it all fits neatly into one smallish box, easy to lug off. Ah, well. It’s fun to hear Ivins’ words and see the photo projections from her life, even if the production feels less inspired than it could be.

If this benign, respectful play scares Stage West’s management (even into making “jokes” in curtain speeches), here is a short list of plays they should avoid like the plague at peril of offending the “conservative” mindset:

  • Saint Joan, GB Shaw, 1923
  • The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Robert Edwin Lee & Jerome Lawrence, 1970
  • Ghost Dance, Mark Stein & Frank Condon, 1997
  • A Single Woman, Jeanmarie Simpson, 2004
  • My Name Is Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katherine Vine, 2005

Original 1923 playbill, Saint Joan

My  review of Austin’s  Zach Theatre’s Jan. 2011 production: https://criticalrant.com/2011/01/31/molly-ivins-the-zach-theatre-a-moving-memo/

May the memory of Molly Ivins shine like a beacon for truth and justice and keep me strong in the face of anti-liberal bias. May her memory also point me to my next double Jack Daniels tall, on the rocks….

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