By Jordan Wright
In the time-tested tradition of portraying dysfunctional families as a device, playwright Tracy Letts gifts us with a slyly engrossing gem about the Weston family – their children and their spouses. Set in a country home in Osage County, Oklahoma, Violet Weston holds her extended family emotionally hostage … and it’s riveting. I mean, who doesn’t want to witness another family’s meltdowns? It’s the stuff Shakespeare – and soap operas – are made of. Schadenfreude – the perfect prescription for diminishing our own problems.
Beverly Weston is a man of letters – published, pedantic and alcoholic – the poet patriarch of his large family. When he goes missing and family members arrive to help in the search, Violet is free to wreak havoc. Armed with a battery of opioids and anti-depressants, this pill-popping drama queen gleefully bullies and guilts her three daughters into disinheriting themselves. Divorce is a popular theme too. Within a mere three acts Letts throws every accusation and guilt trip on one and all. Expect a delectable bouillabaisse of toxicity in every caustic remark.
Gratefully, a superb cast subsumes our angst at their hair-raising conflicts by delivering some of the funniest lines ever. I wanted desperately to memorize a few of these snarky barbs. You will too. They might come in handy at your next family gathering. In one particularly funny/crazy/menacing scene at the supper table, as all the members are gathered around bemoaning Beverly’s fate, Violet toys with her knife, twisting it gleefully while alternately threatening and accusing each one in turn. Think Nurse Ratched, Virginia Wolfe and Miss Hannigan rolled into one tyrannical villainess. Fun, right?
Balancing out the madness is Johnna Monevata (Katarina Frustaci), a soft-spoken Cheyenne girl that Beverly hired as housekeeper before he disappeared, and who proves to be the heroine of the psychologically damaged lot.
Director Susan Devine is skillful at extracting a wide range of conflicting emotions from her cast as their respective characters veer wildly out of control from love to hate to sympathy.
Notable performances from Diane Sams as Violet, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as her bossy sister-in-law Mattie Fae Aiken, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Mattie’s browbeaten husband, and Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, one of Violet’s three daughters and a central character in the conflicts.
The production also stars Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham, Paul Donahoe as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht and Greg Wilczynski as Little Charlie Aiken.
Set design for “August: Osage County” is by Dan Remmers, lighting design is by Franklin Coleman, sound design by Alan Wray and costume design by Beverley Benda.
Highly recommended – especially for those with perfectly behaved families.
Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com