Theater review: ‘August: Osage County’ a gripping family drama
By James F. Cotter
For the Times Herald-Record
Posted Feb. 8, 2016 at 10:51 AM
“August: Osage County” by Tracy Letts won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and was brought to the screen in 2014 in a film starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. The play is being revived by the County Players in highly effective fashion by a talented cast under the skillful direction of Christine Crawfis. The actors rant and rave against one another with authentic southwestern accents and keep up a racing pace through three exciting acts. With the characters’ foul mouths and drug and alcohol addictions, this is a play for mature audiences. Those attending Friday’s opening night performance were enthusiastic and gave the actors a long standing ovation.
Three generations of an Oklahoma family gather together when their patriarch Beverly Weston (Ben Seibert) disappears after he has hired a new housemaid, Johnna (Janet E. Nurre), and argued violently with his wife Violet. The clan is led by matriarch Violet (Ann Citron), a pill-pushing tyrant who rules over the dysfunctional lot. They have three daughters: Barbara (MaryBeth Boylan), married to but about to divorce Bill Fordham (David J. Ringwood); Ivy (Lissy Kilman) who is unmarried and a university librarian; and Karen (Kristin Battersby) who has arrived from Florida with her fiancé Steve (Jim Granger). Karen loves Steve madly, but he is a druggie and creep who makes moves on Jean Fordham (Sarah Gabrielli), the dope-addicted 14-year-old daughter of Barbara and Bill.
Mattie Fae Aiken (Anna Marie Paolercio) is Violet’s sister, who like her has grown up with abusive parents and shares her sister’s nightmare memories. Mattie Fae is married to Charlie Aiken (Douglas Woolley), a baffled bystander who cannot understand the Westons’ mutual hatred, especially his wife’s hostility to their son Little Charles (Michael J. Frohnhoefer) who at 36 is still treated by the family as a child. He and Ivy are secretly in love, to add to the complicated spider web of relationships. Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Jeffery Battersby), Barbara’s former boyfriend, is the bearer of news about Beverly’s fate.
As Violet, Citron is a compelling presence, at times shouting and blaming others for their problems and at other times sounding reasonable. As Beverly, Seibert opens the play with an eloquent speech on the beauty of poetry and the brevity of life, summing up his own ability to write poems and teach. Boylan makes Barbara a catalyst to the action, lashing out at husband Bill and daughter Jean, but saving her strongest attacks for mother Violet. It is a forceful portrayal and key to the success of this revival. Battersby’s Karen opens Act 2 with an engaging monologue about her life and dreams, and Wooley’s Charlie delivers an honest sermon on the need for charity and patience. Frohnhoefer again fashions in Little Charles a figure of inner depth and conflict beneath an ordinary surface. Every member of the cast plays a believable part in this chaotic household.
Bill Peckham has designed a multilevel set that spreads out into three rooms on the wide stage; it is handsome and cluttered. Nancy Scrivner’s choice of props makes that clutter real. The clothes designed by Cynthia Topps for the changing scenes and hot weather perfectly suit the action. Lighting designer Mike Walker, sound designer Mark Weglinski and technical director Kevin Barnes bring their expertise and experience to this memorable production.