The late syndicated columnist Molly Ivins “could be caustic, even mean, but she could get away with it because she was always funny,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist John Warner in 2018. Of a U.S. representative from Dallas, Ivins once wrote, “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

New Surry’s “Red Hot Patriot” play sizzles

Special to The Ellsworth American

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 pandemic or the Black Lives Matter movement? We will never know, but it’s a pretty sure thing she would have made us laugh through our tears.

New Surry Theatre, and in particular actor Vanessa Hawkins, reminded us of Ivins’ blistering wit in the recent virtual production of Allison Engel’s “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” which closed last weekend.

Vanessa Hawkins pulled off a tour de force performance as columnist Molly Ivins in New Surry Theatre’s production of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.”

The play opened on the Blue Hill 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 his 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 Ivins’ 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 men 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 Texas accent, to walk, talk and type us through Ivins’s 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 a 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 I have seen him take on for which he is eminently unsuited.

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 and there were so many pithy quotes being fired at us, if a few got missed it was no big deal.

If you missed this excellent performance, we hope 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.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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