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Red Hot Patriot

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Kathleen Turner was a box office bombshell in films such as "Body Heat" and "Romancing the Stone." In the last many years, however, Turner has focused her formidable acting skills upon the stage. And we theatergoers are better off for it.

In her segue from screen siren to stage maven, Turner has, in front of Broadway audiences, characterized such demanding roles as Mrs. Robinson, in the stage adaptation of "The Graduate" (in which she had a nude scene), and Martha, in the theatrical marathon that is "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf." For the latter performance Turner was nominated for a Tony Award.

Now Turner is performing in what amounts to a solo-show at Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse. There is one other actor, Matthew Van Oss, stealthily appearing onstage from time to time and who’s credited in the program listings simply as a “Helper.”  The script is titled "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins." It’s a bio-play, written by sisters Margret and Allison Engel, and based on the true life and times of the titular character, a left-leaning Texas journalist.

Not only was Ivins a noted nemesis of the East Coast bred but Texas transplanted George W. Bush when he was president of the United States, but she also lent her tart tongue to assessing Texas politics when Ivy Leaguer Bush was the fledgling governor of the Lone Star State. In fact, it was Ivins who dubbed Bush, Jr. with the sobriquet, “Shrub.”

Under the aptly anterior direction of David Esbjornson, "Red Hot Patriot" is not subtle, and neither is Turner’s rough-hewed characterization. Then again, the extraverted Ivins was not known for her gentle way with words or her kid-glove approach to others. Once Ivins was called-on-the-carpet of The New York Times for using the term “Gang pluck” to describe a Texas ritual, wherein beer-swilling men gather in a seated circle to de-feather a flock of chickens. Ivins claimed that it was merely harmless wordplay. Her editor disagreed and redacted the phrase from the article.

Loaded with anecdotes and homilies, as well as the lowdown on lawmakers and chief executive officers across the land – "Red Hot Patriot" is a tribute to a truly independent Texan, as well as a lesson in speaking truth to power. Not only was Ivins a breath of fresh journalistic air, she was also a gifted humorist with the populist touch of a Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

What’s more, Ivins was an intellectual who could go toe-to-toe with the best and brightest in the political world. Ivins could win them or wound them with her sharp wit – she once warned that if one old pol’s I.Q. sunk any further he’d have to be” watered twice a day” – and she could be unnerving in her insights: she stood firmly against the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Turner delivers the spirit, spite and bite of Ivins with obvious relish and easy command of the stage. Though her raspy voice and Texas patois may raise questions about Turner’s vocal vulnerabilities, as well as the veracity of her Yellow-Rose dialect – the effect of her characterization remains towering and is, ultimately, convincing.

Clad in dark jeans, an un-tucked blue jean shirt and red cowgirl boots (costuming by Elizabeth Hope Clancy), and with projections by Maya Ciarrocchi of the actual Molly Ivins (as well as other noted or notorious figures) displayed up-center stage behind her, Turner brings vitality and dedication to the narrative, while adding ample doses of emotion. When Turner, as Ivins, reveals her struggle with breast cancer, we empathize with her; when she refers to her life without children or a husband, we sympathize with her.

In an 80-minute tour de force, Turner believably embodies the irrepressible Ivins. Ivins is a character worth knowing; Turner is an actor worth seeing. Molly Ivins’ words, as interpreted by Kathleen Turner, put the “riot” in “Patriot.”

Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins continues at the Geffen Playhouse – 10886 Le Conte Avenue Los Angeles – through February 19. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. There are also performances on Sunday at 7 p.m. For reservations, dial (310) 208-5454. For online ticketing, visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.