Clad in a pair of sassy red cowboy boots and an oversized denim button-down shirt, Kathleen Turner sits stage center and reads a newspaper article. “Personally, I love Americans,” Turner muses with a slight Texas drawl. “We think that the last words of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ are ‘play ball.’ Huge numbers of us believe in flying saucers, palm readers, horoscopes and pyramid power — a nation undeterred by reality! No wonder we went to the moon.
“And Iraq,” she quickly points out.
This isn’t Turner talking, per se. Rather, it’s the embodiment of the late Molly Ivins, the sharp-witted liberal journalist-author from Texas whose political rants and reflections are now the stuff of legend.
Turner makes her Berkeley Repertory Theatre debut this month, passionately filling Ivins’ shoes in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins.” The Oscar- and Tony-nominated actress relishes the role.
“It’s terribly important to me to be an activist, to be part of things I believe in and show up and speak out,” Turner says. “In that sense, I feel very bonded to Molly, because she believed strongly in people’s ability to do something, as do I.”
Penned by twin sisters Margaret Engel and Allison Engel and directed by David Esbjornson (“Thérèse Raquin”), the outing delivers Ivins’ fiery take on national politics and more.
“Any one-person show is a biggie,” Turner says. “Here’s the thing — Molly was a brilliant writer, but why should you come see this play instead of reading Molly’s book? I am that difference, in terms of making it come alive. That’s a really balancing act. That’s the challenge.”
It’s a challenge Turner easily handles. She’s both screen icon (“Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Prizzi’s Honor”) and stage dynamo (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).
Asked what she loves most about acting, Turner sighs, and says, “Obviously, as the years go on, you really have to think about this, you know? I question it over and over.
“But one of the reasons I love stage so much is that there are some nights when I feel like my arms can snake all the way down the walls of the theater and hug everybody in it. Can you imagine me with 300-foot arms? But that’s how it feels — that I am holding everyone in a hug. And it’s just exciting. This is a great, great feeling.”
IF YOU GO
Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. most Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 4
Tickets: $29 to $89
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org