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Kathleen Turner stars in ‘Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins’

The late Molly Ivins was a syndicated newspaper columnist who had little patience for stupidity, incompetence, pomposity or dishonesty, especially in politicians.

Instead of vitriol, though, she skewered them with her homegrown Texas humor, as seen in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.” Kathleen Turner brings her to life in a one-woman play by twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel and presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Wearing a blue denim work shirt, jeans and red cowboy boots (costume by Elizabeth Hope Clancy), Turner strides around the newsroom that houses her utilitarian desk with its manual typewriter and a preserved armadillo.

She’s ostensibly trying to write a column about her father, with whom she apparently had a love-hate relationship and whom she called “the General.” He was a conservative, she a liberal.

She’s occasionally interrupted by bulletins coming over the Associated Press wire machine — a staple of newsrooms before computers — and delivered to her by a silent copy boy (Michael Barrett Austin).

Along the way, she talks about her life, career and the people she’s met She tells how she started out in journalism when most newsrooms were all-male and when most journalists were hard drinkers, a situation that apparently led to her own problems with alcohol.

Her numerous anecdotes are peppered with references to her mentors and to famous people, mostly conservative politicians, most of whom she held in low regard. She’s the one who dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub.” She had little use for coziness between “guvmint” and “big bidness,” terms that don’t crop up in the play but that she often used in her columns.

Directed by David Esbjornson, Turner employs her famously sultry voice and assured stage presence to personify Ivins. She easily transitions from astute and often salty humor to more serious issues. The latter include the deaths of two boyfriends, one in a motorcycle accident and one in the Vietnam war, which Ivins steadfastly opposed. She says that both it and the Iraq war were predicated on lies.

The newsroom set by John Arnone is enhanced by Daniel Ionazzi’s lighting and by photo projections designed by Maya Ciarrocchi. The sound design and cowboy-themed music are by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen.

The play concludes with her plea for people to stand up for their rights and to oppose wrongdoing. Ironically, this came during opening night as people across the country, including Berkeley and Oakland, were protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer accused of killing a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

When Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 62, she left a void that has yet to be filled at newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and hundreds of others across the country. She was a Texas original.

Running about 80 minutes without intermission, the play is both insightful and funny — highly enjoyable.

“Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” will continue through Jan. 4 in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

 

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