Margaret and Allison Engel inspired by the wit of Molly Ivins

In the Jan. 10 Journalism Director’s Forum, sisters and co-authors Margaret and Allison Engel came for a conversation about their new play, “Red Hot Patriots: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.” The inspiration for the play came from real-life journalist and columnist Molly Ivins, whose career includes bylines in the New York Times, more than 400 newspaper papers, and appearances on “60 Minutes.” “Ivins was a political writer but she was also extremely funny. She did serious research and reporting and not just sarcastic quips that poke fun at people,” Margaret Engel said. The decision to write a play based off of Ivins was an easy one to make, said the co-authors of the play, because of her strong voice and vivid personality. “She has definitely left behind a legacy. People still think about what she would say to certain things in current news,” Allison Engel said. The sisters had difficulties getting the rights to the play initially because they had no theatrical writing experience, however, that actually helped them in the long run because it allowed them to be much more flexible than a regular playwright. “I think it helps to be a journalist because we can write quickly and revise quickly. We had no problems with changing words and we were flexible,” Allison Engel said. “Also, lots of playwrights, because they are so attached to their words, can’t give agents final script approval, but because we’ve had editors all our career, we didn’t mind.” The production aspect of the play was also new to the sisters who had never had to pick out set designers, directors, and other production personnel. With a deadline of just six months to get the production running, given by Ivins’ agent, the sisters and actress Kathleen Turner, who portrayed Ivins in the production, got straight to work. “Everything was very compressed and hectic. We were still making changes on opening day. We cut 10 minutes of the play just the day before. Ten minutes from different spots too, not all at the same place,” Margaret Engel said. The play was well-received in Philadelphia where it first opened and has since then been at eight different theaters. The Engels said the only negative response about the play has been that it is too short. They are also working on two other projects, both of which were inspired by journalists who have made a difference with their work.