LIVE: “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” @ Shakespeare & Company, Lenox [GailSez]

ina Packer as Molly Ivins in "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" at Shakespeare & Company (photo: Kevin Sprague)

ina Packer as Molly Ivins in "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" at Shakespeare & Company (photo: Kevin Sprague)

“I have been optimistic to the point of idiocy my whole life, a congenital defect. I assumed as I grew older I would become an unnaturally cheerful old fart. Instead, I find both journalism and politics, the two fields I have cared about most, in a parlous state, and rather than coasting out on a long, merry burst of laughter, I am buckling up for what looks like the last hard stand against Mordor. Natch, I’m sure we’ll win. But we need a trumpet call here – for attention, for help, to battle. Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country. Attention must be paid. Work needs to be done.”

– Molly Ivins

As soon as I saw the publicity of shot of Tina Packer advertising this production of “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins” I had immediate and conflicting emotions. First, I thought “What a great role for Tina!” Packer is an outspoken and dynamic woman of a certain age, as, eventually, was Ivins. There is also a distinct facial resemblance, although Packer lacks Ivins physically impressive stature (she was just over six feet tall).

And my second thought was, “Tina doing a Texas accent??” Packer is now a proud American citizen, but she was born a British subject and lived and worked primarily in the UK for the first thirty-odd years of her life. While a very few actors have a real genius for accents, the majority don’t. Even with strong training, which Packer certainly has, most performers can do variations on their own native accent far better than they can do “foreign” ones – in other words Brits are usually able to do plausible regional dialects from their side of the pond and Americans from ours, but we cannot do each others’ with any consistency.

Both of those initial reactions were right on the money. This is a great role for Packer but she cannot do a Texas accent to save her life. Also, I strongly suspect that she was ill on opening night – her voice seemed to crack and she often put her hand up to her throat. I was praying that that Assistant Stage Manager Harrison Wilken, who played the silent bit part of the newsboy who dashed in to tear the AP wires off of the teletype machine, would bring her that “cup of coffee” she kept asking for. Heck, I would have been happy if she’d taken a slug of whiskey! The show must go on but it makes the audience uncomfortable to see an actor in obvious physical discomfort, especially if that pain could be alleviated by bringing a cup of water to the stage.

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