“Long gone are the days where you’re just doing theater to do theater,” says Austin Playhouse’s Lara Toner-Haddock. “We had to look at what was relevant, what is meaningful, [and] what we wanted to bring to the stage, virtual or otherwise, at this point in time. And Molly’s words are pretty much at the top of my list and I think Cyndi’s also.”
This week, Austin Playhouse is launching a new all-virtual theatrical season (dubbed “The Ghostlight Season”) with a production of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. The one-actor play is directed by Toner-Haddock and stars Cyndi Williams as the legendary Texas writer and political commentator.
“It’s been a cathartic experience. It’s been amazing,” Williams says about channeling Ivins’ spirit in 2020. “It was about bringing joy to the fight. And I felt like that was something I really needed… and I’ve been carrying that with me.”
“I think that remembering that this fight has been going on for a while is important,” Toner-Haddock says. “The idea that we’re part of a continuum – and I’m speaking as a fairly liberal Democrat myself – brings a lot of hope. Yeah, I think that it’s good to remember the sheer joy of a good fight. And that we have a great history of that in Texas and in this country.
“Molly has that line in the play, all your life, no matter what else you do, you have another job – you are a citizen. And it’s that kind of reminder, that call to be engaged and not to tune out and to keep working and fighting.”
“To participate,” Williams adds, quoting Ivins. “Do not throw away our legacy out of cynicism or boredom or neglect.”
Williams says she doesn’t want to imitate Ivins but does want to relay her spirit. So she’s watched a lot of videos and interviews, and has worked to capture her smile and laugh and natural confidence. The actor (who Toner-Haddock describes as being “5’2” in heels”) says the wardrobe helps her embody the six-foot-tall Ivins. “I’m wearing these boots, and they’re my own boots but I don’t wear them very often – they’re real fancy boots,” she says. “And I swear, the second I put them on, I just felt taller and I felt like a different person.”
Williams and Toner-Haddock both feel that Ivins’ spirit and humor are sorely missing in the current, often chaotic, political climate. “I’m so sorry we don’t have her right now,” Williams says. “Because… the more we can laugh at it, the better it is. Or the easier it is.”
“I think for many people this is a pretty stressful time,” says Toner-Haddock. “And this play has so much humor in it, which for me is just really wonderful. And whatever side of the political aisle you are, Molly is that more classic Texas liberal journalist that could see the humor in the Democrats and the Republicans pretty equally. It’s nice to have an opportunity to laugh… in the middle of this unprecedented, crazy time.”