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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Massachusetts

Red Hot Patriot
Tina Packer
Tina Packer's ultra-dynamic persona meets Molly Ivins' brassy and audacious smarts, character and chutzpah during the 90-minute Shakespeare & Company presentation of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, continuing at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts, through September 4th. Directed knowingly by Jenna Ware, Packer, embodying Ivins' words through a script written by twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel, is in the midst of developing this piece into something quite special.

Ivins, on the political left, was a Texas journalist who attended Smith College and wrote about politics for the Texas Observer. She would move on to the Washington Post and The New York Times, too. Ivins wrote the New York Times obituary of Elvis Presley. Her accent was distinctively thick but she, evidently, could purposefully lose it and speak as if she were raised in the Northeast when need be. Packer, now 72, enunciates with her signature accent, having lived in England for her early years until the mid-1970s.

During Red Hot Patriot, the galvanic Packer, from time to time, mixes Texas twang with her own strong dialect. Frankly, it takes a bit of listening to realize and subsequently accept that this is a Tina Packer/Molly Ivins blend. That particular vocal confluence becomes warmer and actually fun to hear as the evening evolves.

The play is about a bold, forthright woman who spoke her mind about, for example, Lyndon Johnson and George Bush. Ivins' father, in addition, a man quite far to the right of the political center, is often referenced. Ivins urged people to "raise hell." She minced no words about the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Packer, highly irreverent herself, has been pivotal in the founding, growth, and survival of Shakespeare & Company.

Tina Packer, during recent years, has spent much time on stage performing. Simultaneously, she further developed her insightful and commanding look at women in Shakespeare's plays with Women of Will (she wrote it and stars in it with Nigel Gore. The result is a commanding five part work). Packer is the true personification of an intellectual: one who researches, contemplates, teaches. Always a talented actor, she now has the time to live on stage.

Molly Ivins, the concept and script, came to Packer a while back when she was attending the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. The only performer within the group, Packer was asked to read aloud Red Hot Patriot. The current developmental journey finds her making daily discoveries. While Packer might very well be as familiar with Shakespeare's women as anyone alive, Ivins is relatively new to her. Hence, those watching the play during the early days of the run see an already cogent and well-formulated performance during a growth process. Ivins, in Packer's hands, is more acutely actualized.

Designer Patrick Brennan sets the Bernstein stage simply yet suitably. Three desks are positioned as is an old Associated Press wire machine. Costumer Govane Lohbauer dresses Packer's Ivins in denim and red. The actress tosses her wig late in the evening as Ivins reveals that she has cancer (Molly died in 2007 at the age of 62). She rallied several times while afflicted with the disease. Thus, the final portion of the play is neither depressing nor morbid. Instead, the spirited Packer playing the fiery Ivins continues to write and forever speak her mind.

Red Hot Patriot needs a few moments to move along. It really begins to hum midway through as Packer, spurred by images (thanks to Enrico Spada) projected upon a rear screen, grows more and more fervent. Ivins' razor-sharp zingers are sprinkled throughout the thoughtful evening of one- person theater.

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, through September 4th. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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