It took two brains to bring columnist Molly Ivins back to life.
Ivins, who died of breast cancer in 2007 at age 62, is the subject of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” a one-woman show opening Thursday at Arena Stage. Kathleen Turner stars as the outspoken Texan, who was known for her liberal politics, quick wit and a syndicated column that brought her blunt style to a national audience.
“The day she died, I called my twin sister and said, ‘We have to write a one-woman show,’ ” Margaret Engel says. “She instantly got it and said, ‘Yes, we have to.’ ”
Sibling rivalry doesn’t exist when Engel works on a project with her sister, Allison. “We are real writing partners,” Engel says. “Before the Internet, we did three books together. This was a lot easier. Being identical twins, we have shorthand, and we don’t have to preface every critical comment with three sentences leading up to it. We can cut to the chase.”
Engel didn’t know Ivins personally (they had met on occasion), but she felt that Ivins needed to be memorialized, both for who she was and what she brought to the country.
“We owe a special debt to the women who came before us in journalism, because they had a rougher time than we did,” Engel says. (Engel was previously a reporter and editor at The Washington Post.) For the country as a whole, Ivins was “really another Mark Twain. She’s funny and insightful and spot-on about showing America’s foibles and triumphs.”
Ivins was well aware that her personality and writing style wouldn’t fit in everywhere. “She once said her tombstone should say, ‘She never made a shrewd career choice,’ ” Engel says. “She really cared about her writing and her message more than the luxuries of writing for big-time media outlets.”
Though Ivins briefly worked at the New York Times, her freewheeling style often got her in hot water with her editors. She went back to Texas, where her column was eventually carried by more than 400 newspapers nationally. “She could have made it work at the New York Times, but her personality didn’t fit,” Engel says. “That’s the Old Gray Lady, and she wrote in bare feet and brought her dogs into the newsroom.”Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW; through Oct. 28, $94-$109; 202-488-3300. (Waterfront/SEU)