Getting to be Molly Ivins, a liberal girl's dream: Who doesn't want to kick assand beat down Shrub?
Girls on the left, like me, all wanted to be Molly Ivins. The lady had first rate, Grade A, no nonsense sass. Her theatrical presence was the stuff of legends. She was a one-woman show. Now, she is one.
Main Street Theater (MST) is running Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, which opens Thursday night and runs through July 1, at the Chelsea Market location. The woman who coined President George W. Bush's most beloved nickname, "shrub," had a lot to say in her brief 62 years on earth, and playwrights Margaret and Allison Engel do their best to get her best stuff in during the 75-minute play.
Sara Gaston gets to be Ivins. She is well known to Houston audiences in her many roles with MST and the Alley Theatre. She's appeared in film and TV, and appears on the web series Behind Closed Doors.
Gaston visited with me about living my dream — getting to be Molly.
CultureMap: When you found out you got this part, what was your next move?
Sara Gaston: I was offered the role several months before we were to begin rehearsal so mostly I waffled back and forth between being excited and being terrified! About two weeks before rehearsals started, I began to commit the lines to memory and started to do research in earnest.
CM: Where you a fan during Molly's life?
SG: I had heard of her, but really knew nothing about her until this process. Now I’m a huge fan. It’s a huge thrill to get to say these words.
CM: If you were new to her career, how did you catch up?
SG: Fortunately, the play does a great job of taking us on that journey. I also watched videos, read articles online, looked up pictures and got a couple of books for reference material. Patti Bean, our director, was also a great resource. Sharing what we had learned was a big part of the early rehearsal process.
CM: One woman shows that try to capture a life aren't easy to pull off. The dramatic arc can feel strained, because there is just so much to convey in one evening. And, with a life as large as Ivin's, that's no small task. What's your approach to the material?
SG: I kept reminding myself that this isn’t a biopic — it’s a piece of theater. Our job is to capture her spirit, because there’s no way to cover everything that made her incredible. I’ve been sort of marinating myself in her world for the last several weeks.
CM: How do you think the Engel sisters managed to condense a life into 75 minutes?
SG: I have no idea how they did it, but they did an amazing job. I feel that they really capture the essence of who she was as a person and not just as a political voice. People who aren’t familiar with her will really get to know her. I hope those people who do already know her will feel like they are catching up with an old friend.
CM: Ivins did have a way of talking that made us feel as if she was talking directly to us. As an actor, what's the challenge for you?
SG: I really wanted to avoid trying to focus on doing an impersonation of her and getting caught up in mannerisms, faces, things like that. I’m not her, but I can try to do her spirit justice.
CM: This is a political piece, there's no getting around that. The lady grew up with "Shrub" (George W. Bush), and pretty much skewered him his entire career. Did you have any issue with Ivins' politics to get around?
SG: From what I’ve learned, not at all. I’d say we have very similar viewpoints.
CM: The powerhouse Kathleen Turner played this role, and she is a brassy dame to begin with. Now, it's your turn. What's really fun about being Molly?
SG: Getting to say what you think! We get really caught up in being diplomatic — be nice, don’t burn bridges! It’s the sort of thing you’d like to say, but you edit yourself. Molly just let it fly. God bless her.
CM: Aside from this big, fat, fabulous role, what other role have you played that really made an impact on your life, and why?
SG: It's hard to pick one. Whenever you really tackle a role, that character begins to creep into your life and leaves a mark. And that's happened to me a lot of times. Recently, I played Mary Henley in an independent film based on the true story of a Houston serial killer. She was the mother of one of the 'apprentices' to the killer.
Going to that place, where, as a mother, you look at the person who was once your tiny baby and see a killer in his place, that was a really dark place.
CM: What to do you do when you are not preparing for a role?
SG: I coach actors. I love it because I get to share something I'm really passionate about. It's so rewarding to help an actor with a breakthrough, or guide them as they try to navigate this crazy business.
Sadly, I'm a terrible theater-goer. If I'm not in a play, I rarely go to the theater. When I need a break, I love to read — it's great to climb into another world.
EnjoyMolly Ivins on InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse: