County Players delve into family drama in ‘Osage’
Darrah Cloud and David Simpatico For the Poughkeepsie Journal 1:13 p.m. EST February 10, 2016
The fierce production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” at County Players in Wappingers Falls, is a tough, lyrical, gloriously tragicomic, brutally articulate examination of an American family: pitiless in its humor, loving in its abuse, honest in its betrayal. This production is a must-see!
From the get-go, Beverly Weston, alcoholic patriarch of a large clan of strong(ish) women and weak men, is saying good-bye to all this. He is hiring a housekeeper, someone outside the family, to be in charge of the whole mess he’s created, to essentially clean up after him. The fact that she’s Native American plays into the larger theme of this failed white man giving his “land” back to “the Indians,” but not without a comic twist at every turn: Johnna, the housekeeper, swears her loyalty to his family for no other reason than that she needs the job.
And then, after reciting some lines from T.S. Eliot, he leaves. The panic — and the giddy disintegration — that ensues when the man of the house suddenly disappears is the focus of the play.
The power of “August: Osage County” is not constrained by the walls of the Weston home, but, via the invisible “fourth wall,” will resonate in the homes of audience members as well. Violet Weston, Beverly’s wife, is a drug addict, echoing strains of O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” and his eldest daughter, Barbara, is finally the voice we wish for from that classic — someone who screams, “You’re a drug addict, Mom!” to the woman ruining everyone’s life and makes her listen. Though she exacts change for awhile, when Barbara eventually takes over the chair at her father’s desk in the third act, the question arises as to whether or not the role he played will kill her, too. The roots of pain and fear in this family go deep and have spread up into every branch for generations.
There are many moments in this production that are utterly astonishing. The longish first act is necessary to set up the payoff: two more acts in which the American Dream is exposed as a “survival of the fittest” scam. The excellent set design by Bill Peckham provides an outstanding arena for the family’s psychological and emotional gladiator games: a sprawling multitiered house that contains separate “safe spaces” as well as battlefields, in which the characters attack, defend, regroup, strategize, connect or hide. And how lucky the Hudson Valley is to have Christine Crawfis, a truly fine director. She makes simple use of the huge living room at the foot of the stage, which invites the audience to feel as though we were sitting on a couch in the midst of the Weston’s home, rather than rows away. The arcs of each act are deliberately and masterfully written, and she brings each to its chilling conclusion with finesse.
Ann Citron tackles the extremely difficult role of Violet Weston, a pill-popping matriarch in the style of King Lear, and maintains the regal bearing of royalty while also reminding us constantly of the harsh reality of her Depression-era childhood and the dearth of love that set her on this path of survival-at-all-costs. Her last scene in the play is simple and devastating.
The role of Barbara, the tough oldest daughter, is forcefully played by Marybeth Boylan, whose sharp comic timing lets us know how smart she is in the face of the daunting tragedy unfolding before her, and how hard her job is in attempting to fix this broken crew. Anna Marie Paolercio is notable as Mattie Fae, as are Douglas Woolley as Charlie, and Michael J. Froehnhoefer as Little Charles, whose very existence is a constant reminder to Violet of all the failings of the man she so loved and admired, who thought he was in charge of everything, but in the end, could only control the means of his own death.
A special round of applause to County Players for producing engaging, challenging material for a Hudson Valley audience hungry for adult drama.
Hudson Valley residents Darrah Cloud and David Simpatico are the co-directors of Half Moon Writers, the development wing of the Half Moon Theatre in Poughkeepsie. She is an award-winning playwright and professor at Goddard College and Vassar College. He is an award-winning playwright/librettist, who also writes, directs, edits and stars in “Zombie Hideaway,” a webisodic series on his YouTube Channel, “Noiseball David Simpatico.” Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go . . .
What: County Players’production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County”
When: 8 p.m., Feb. 12-13, Feb. 19-20; 2 p.m., Feb. 14
Where: County Players Falls Theatre, 2681 W. Main St., Wappingers Falls
Tickets: $17, adult; $14, seniors/children under 12