As Bethesda journalist Margaret “Peggy” Engel and her identical-twin sister, Allison, commiserated with each other over the death of Texas columnist Molly Ivins from breast cancer in 2007, they made a decision: They would keep Ivins’s humorous brand of political commentary alive by writing a play about her.
“Both of us thought of her as a heroine and a model,” Peggy says. “The way she combined her wonderful sense of outrage with humor always reminded us of Mark Twain and Will Rogers.”
Ivins had abundant material. Her newspaper columns ran for decades and often were funny enough to warrant the label “Warning: don’t read with coffee in your mouth.” Ivins also had written many books, the last two about “Shrub,” the name she assigned George W. Bush.
Although the Engel twins, 58, are former newspaper reporters and have both written books, neither had ever written for the stage. For two years, researching, writing, and revising their one-woman show about Ivins became their moonlight obsession.
The world premiere of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, starring Kathleen Turner, closes in late April at the Philadelphia Theatre Company after five weeks of sold-out performances and strong reviews. Although there’s no official word yet, the play may go to Broadway, Peggy says.
On stage and off, Turner’s delight at playing the spirited, red-headed Ivins was obvious. The actress knew Ivins, who often visited her friend the late Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, who lived in the same New York City apartment building as Turner.