(The following post is a longer version of a piece first published by Telluride Inside … and Out.)
Molly Ivins was brash and tough. She was irascible and feisty. There was no public relations filter. She didn’t suffer fools. She didn’t just skewer—she chopped and diced—but she led with humor. She made the comfortable uncomfortable.
She wrote for The Texas Observor, The New York Times, Nation, The Dallas Times-Herald and many more. And she contributed a few essays for The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. In fact, I had the pleasure of producing a stand-up for her in Austin for a script she wrote about Texas “art” (pronounced as “ort” by Ivins) about the shrimps, peanuts, pecans, cows, cartoon characters and bulls that adorn various commercial and government establishments. In the name of“ort.” (Watch.)
From her obituary in New York Times:
“After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that the United States was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech ‘probably sounded better in the original German.’ ”
She was one of a kind, in some ways, but Mark Twain or Will Rogers would recognize the barbs and wit. Hunter S. Thompson, too. I wonder where Maureen Dowd would be without Molly’s shoulders to stand on.
In person, Molly Ivins was warm and easy-going and ready to point out that day’s hypocrisy or let you in on the behind-the-scenes dirt from some politician’s pile of laundry. What you got in person was what you read in the papers.
Now, Denver (and Colorado) is in for a treat—a production of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” is scheduled for a brief run at The LIDA Project in downtown Denver, starting Thursday, Oct. 25. Written by twin journalist sisters Margaret and Allison Engel and starring Rhonda Brown, the play celebrates Ivins’ courage and tenacity – even when a complacent America wasn’t listening. This is the same play that starred Kathleen Turner in Philadelphia and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. More information:
Ahead of the debut later this week, producer Zeik Saidman was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Denver production for Telluride Inside…And Out.
Question: What prompted you to produce this play in Denver?
Saidman: I thought it was a very good play (Pulitzer nominated) and important for Colorado audiences to see. The play’s message is ultimately that you are the “deciders;” you need to get out there and do something to maintain a democracy. Also, it was my way to honor her friendship and memory. There is a real Colorado connection here with Molly too. She was the New York Times bureau chief for the Rocky Mountain region (one person office) based in Denver. Her columns appeared in the Denver Post and later the Rocky Mountain News.
Question: How would you describe Molly Ivins?
Saidman: She was physically imposing for a woman. She was 6 feet tall and big-boned. She grew up in the Junior League society of Houston. Her mom told her that she was a “St. Bernard among greyhounds.” She was attractive and could put on that Texas drawl where you could barely understand her. I would leave some of her voice mails on my phone for a while just to listen again to her delightful way of speaking.
Question: For those who didn’t know Molly Ivins, what was it like to spend time with her?
Saidman: Old friendships were real important to her. One of her favorite toasts was “you can’t buy old friendships.” Of course, as old friends you didn’t want her to “perform” when we got together but she did have great stories. We tried to focus the conversation on how she was doing personally, her family and her life in general. But conversation would always turn to politics. She was an avid reader and would monitor the political news and stories on TV. However, she was a down to earth, approachable person. When we went out to restaurants, people on occasion would recognize her and if they came over to the table she would be gracious to them.
Question: What do you think she brought to journalism and the opinion pages?
Saidman: Humor. Molly was a great writer but her gift was to make you think and laugh. One of my favorite lines she wrote was regarding a Texas state legislator ‘’that if his IQ got any lower they would have to water him as a houseplant.” Many people have told me that they really miss her voice in today’s columns.
Question: Why is her character /persona tailor made for a one-woman show?
Saidman: Molly was a larger than life personality full of contradictions. She loved her state of Texas, but wrote about its massive shortcomings. She was a Francophile, spoke French and spent time in Paris (not the one in Texas). She was a gourmet cook, but enjoyed local Tex/Mex food. She liked country western music, but was a terrible singer who reveled in getting on stage to sing with Austin bands. She graduated from the elite, eastern Smith College for women but felt at peace in the Big Bend country of west Texas with cowboys .She drove a pickup truck, knocked around in jeans but would wear French design couture to certain events. She drank and smoked too much, but as far I knew she never missed a deadline. She would party hard but resolutely and courageously get on a plane the next day to speak in some godforsaken small town to the local ACLU chapter. She did this on a regular basis because of a commitment she made to John Henry Falk, a dear friend who had been blacklisted. The play captures some of that persona.
Question: Did you see the Kathleen Turner performance of “Red Hot Patriot?”
Saidman: Yes, we saw the premiere at the Philadelphia Theater Company. I felt she captured Molly’s essence. Kathleen and Molly knew each other. My wife said that she felt Kathleen was channeling Molly. Kathleen has played Molly to sell out audiences in Philadelphia, the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and currently the Arena Theater in Washington, D.C.
Question: What do you think Molly would think of the 2012 Presidential Campaign?
Saidman: One the things she would always say to me about politics laughing and shaking her head “is that you just can’t make this stuff up.” Can you image what she would have written about Cain and Bachmann, just to name a couple of those who had been running? Rick Perry, whom she dubbed “Governor Good Hair”, might have been another book. I know she would been very tough and funny on Romney.
Question: How challenging was it to find a venue and assemble the production for the Denver show?
Saidman: I found out that it is rare for a layperson to bring an idea for a play to the theater world. It took me 2 1/2 years to find a theater company willing to produce the play. I got turned down by eight directors for a variety of reasons. Finally Brian Freeland, the entrepreneurial founder of the LIDA Project, which does experimental and political theater agreed to do it. Even though his schedule was very tight, he committed LIDA Project’s venue and ultimately decided to personally direct the RED HOT PATRIOT. Ironically it took me only 21/2 weeks to raise the funds to cover the cost of production.
Question: What can the audience expect to experience?
Saidman: To laugh really hard and to find poignant human moments in the play. Margaret and Allison Engel, the co-playwrights did a wonderful job capturing the triumphs and pain of Molly’s life. The play is set in a newsroom that is about to close, representing to many in the audience the end of era. The RHP was nominated for a Pulitzer for good reason. I think it tells a great story about a person some people consider the Mark Twain of our generation.
Question: What are your plans for the show if it does well?
Saidman: Opening Night October 25th has sold out. The theater seats about 120 at full capacity. There is a buzz beginning and we haven’t even had a story in the Denver Post yet. We are exploring extending the run in Denver and Brian has contacts in the broader theater community. There has been interest from three other theater companies outside of Denver.