Red Hot Patriot: One-woman performance showcases author Molly Ivins

As part of the weeklong celebration of the First Amendment, the Greenlee School presented the one-woman play, Red Hot Patriot, written by Allison and Margaret Engel. The play commemorates the life and work of Molly Ivins, known for her satirical columns on Texas politics, who died in 2007 at the age of 62.

Devin Wilmott

As part of the 12th annual First Amendment Day celebration, the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication presented “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” to the Ames City Auditorium on April 16.

A political commentator and author known for her outspoken columns throughout the country, Molly Ivins continues to live on after her death in 2007 through her writings and, now, one-woman play.

The Texas humorist spent her life inspiring readers to take a stand and, with that, created a name and legacy for herself during both Bush administrations.

“I am an enormous fan of Molly Ivins, she is one of my heroes,” said Barbara Chisholm, actress and star of Wednesday night’s play. “I think Molly exemplified fighting the good fight with humor and righteous indignation about the wrong doings, but not losing her sense of humanity.” 

Chisholm is best known for roles in Fast Food Nation [2006], Broke Sky [2007] and Holy Hell [2009]. She has met Ivins before her death, in fact previously lived in the same neighborhood as her in Austin, Texas. 

“We called it Red Hot Patriot because she was a real patriot,” said Allison Engel, co-playwright and ISU graduate in home economics journalism. “Even though she criticized our government tremendously, she thought that was one of the things patriots do. Molly acted as a spokesperson and really wrote and appealed to the average American.” 

Ivins never failed to withhold her thoughts and expose what needed to be addressed when it came to politics. She was a strong believer in the freedom of speech and press and used her rights accordingly, which is a perfect fit to the annual First Amendment Day Celebration. 

“It was actually the day I picked up the paper and saw her obituary and became quite upset,” said Margaret Engel, twin sister of Allison, and co-playwright. “I then thought to myself that we cannot lose that voice. That day I called my twin and figured we needed to write a play about her.” 

The Engel sisters started drafting the project the day Molly Ivins passed. The twins have both worked in newsrooms their whole life and said they understood her. Even though they had never written a play before in their lives, the compelling desire to tell Ivins story was a start.

“We got all her old collections of columns and books,” Margaret said.

With these writings, the Engels took on the project and took nine months to gather enough research to create the first draft.

In time, the project came together and premiered in its debut at the Philadelphia Theater Company in 2010, starring actress Kathleen Turner and directed by David Esbjornson. 

Since its debut, the one-woman show has premiered around the country in both local and national locations and starred many actresses.

The actresses that have played the part have never failed to complement the work of Ivins as a woman activist and hero. 

“I think the cool thing about Iowa State asking this play to be apart of its First Amendment Day is the fact that Molly Ivins was exactly the opposite of that,” Allison said. “She used bad language, and she’s funny, but she’s a huge believer in the First Amendment. She spent her entire life exercising this right in her own way.”

The play lasted approximately 90 minutes and filled the entire Ames City Auditorium.

First Amendment Day events on April 17 will include Mary Beth and John Tinker from the Tinker vs. Des Moines supreme court case, along with Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey and Mike Hiestand at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.