A 'Kick-Ass' Evening with Kathleen Turner at the Newseum

August 15, 2012

By Sharon Shahid, online managing editor

WASHINGTON — The "Evening With Kathleen Turner" at the Newseum Aug. 15 began with the Academy Award and Tony Award nominee in the role of lighting director.

"Who's on the board up there? Can you give me a little bit of a break here? These are really bright," Turner said about the blinding lights.

With that, the actress delighted the sold-out audience in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater in a free-wheeling interview about her personal and professional life and her starring role as legendary newspaper columnist Molly Ivins in "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins." The one-woman play, which premiered in 2010 at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, opens Aug. 23 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Ivins, who died in 2007 at age 62, was a liberal political humorist for The Texas Observer, the Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She mocked the political establishment and her beloved "great state" of Texas with biting satire that made her one of America's best-known columnists.

Turner, who often crossed paths with Ivins due to their support of similar causes, said the columnist's wit was what attracted her to the play.

"I like to look for the humorous side of any circumstance," Turner said. The play "was a chance to really crack people up."

Margaret Engel, the Newseum's former managing editor, co-wrote "Red Hot Patriot" with her twin sister, Allison. She appeared with Turner on the program that was moderated by the Newseum's vice chairman Shelby Coffey III, who was editor of the Dallas Times Herald during Ivins's tenure.

Engel said she and Allison settled on Ivins after culling the writings of several journalists.

"We spent a lot of time reading the best in the business. Soon, we realized Molly Ivins was the best in the business — funny, insightful, political. She was really our Mark Twain. When she died, we decided we had to do a one-woman show about her," Engel said.

Engel explained that journalists made good subjects because "most have great lives beyond the typewriter." Ivins "was such an American icon … that I knew she would be the type of person an audience would appreciate and know." Engel praised Ivins's honesty and courage to leave the fast track in New York and deliberately go back to Texas in 1981.

Humorist Erma Bombeck, and reporter and author Damon Runyon, are two possible subjects of the Engels' upcoming projects.

Turner said she didn't do additional research on Ivins to prepare for the role and didn't attempt to be a replica of the columnist. Instead, she relied on what she called a "truth-o-meter."

"I don't mimic. I act," she said. The only information I need should be in the script."

The 1981 movie "Body Heat" was Turner's first motion picture. Since then, she has starred in several critically acclaimed movies and Broadway plays, including "Romancing the Stone," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Turner is in remission from rheumatoid arthritis that was first diagnosed in 1992. At the time, she was told she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Turner said an old saying of her grandfather's when faced with adversity — "You just have to, don't you?" — became her mantra and source of perseverance.

Ivins often referred to her readers as "beloveds," a practice Turner said she has adopted.

"Now, all my audiences are my beloveds. And I like it," she said.

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