BLUE HILL—There have been more than a few times in the past four or five years when I have missed Molly Ivins’ Texas brand of sharp-shooting humor aimed at American politics, politicians and culture.
Oh, what on earth would this prolific newspaper columnist, author and commentator, who died far too soon in 2007, have had to say about Donald Trump’s ascendence and fall, the politics of a pandemic or the Black Live Matter movement? We will never know, but it’s a pretty sure bet she would have made us laugh through our tears.
The New Surry Theatre, and in particular actor Vanessa Hawkins, reminded us of Ivins’ blistering wit with the recent virtual production of twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel’s “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick–Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” which closed last weekend.
The play opened on the town hall stage with Ivins sitting at her typewriter, struggling to craft a memorial to her father, with whom she had a complicated and contentious relationship.
She recalls him telling her on the eve of her debutante cotillion that she looked like a “Saint Bernard amongst a pack of greyhounds.”
In fact, “complicated and contentious” sums up her relationship with all the authority figures in her personal and professional life.
On the wall behind her desk is a “Beautiful Minds” array of photographs and clippings of all the people – mostly white, male people in power – she took on in her syndicated columns. In particular, she gunned for entitled hypocrites with which, she observes, both the Texas and U.S. legislatures are packed.
George W. Bush, whom she dubbed “Shrub,” was a frequent target of her barbs. “We went from a thousand points of light with his father to one dim bulb,” she tells us.
In her tour de force performance, Hawkins manages, for close to an hour and a half with a credible Texan accent, to walk, talk and type us through Ivins’ early days on the cop beat of a small Texas daily to her rise to a byline at the venerable New York Times, which turned out not to be a good fit.
Describing in one of her columns an arrogant legislator as being “a fella with beer gut worthy of the Smithsonian,” she was horrified to find this had been edited to “the gentleman had a protuberant abdomen.”
Eventually, she and the Times parted ways and, we learn, Ivins found her way back to the Texas dailies, nationwide syndication and a stint as a TV commentator on “60 Minutes.”
Director Lori Sitzabee does a fine job of keeping the energy and action high in this one–woman show. She has Hawkins pace, slouch, sit, lean, stand and, in general, use the stage space and her props to great effect.
Randall Simons, who designed the set, also appeared for brief moments as a diffident, speechless copyboy, and it is the only role for which he is eminently unsuited that I have seen him take on.
Although there were a couple tech glitches during Friday’s performance, such as a frozen or twitchy screen (which may well have been my own connection), these were short–lived. There were so many pithy quotes being fired at us that if a few got missed, it was no big deal.
It is a pity, however, if you missed this excellent performance, and one hopes whenever we can safely gather in a theater again, Hawkins will reprise this role for a live audience so we can all laugh and gasp together at this remarkable journalist’s wicked sharp wit and wisdom.