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Weathervane opens 78th season with intriguing AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Weathervane opens 78th season with intriguing AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

The Weston’s of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning, AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY, give new meaning to the phrase dysfunctional family.

The dark comedy was developed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and, after a strong run in the Windy City, came to Broadway in 2007, where it ran for 648 performances.  The US national tour, which featured an amazing performance by Estelle Parsons, played in Cleveland.  The script is so universal in its themes that it has been staged in such disparate settings as England, Israel, Puerto Rico, Australia, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

The story centers on Beverly Weston, an alcoholic, the family patriarch, and award winning poet, who-disappears.  His wife, Violet, eats prescription drugs like they are popcorn.  Her bossy sister, Mattie Fae, has a secret that is about to be revealed.  Daughter Barbara’s marriage has fallen apart.  Fourteen year-old granddaughter Jean is a secret pot smoker.  Without knowing it, daughter Ivy is involved in an incestuous romance.  Daughter Karen is engaged to a man with a questionable past and present.  Before disappearing, Beverly hired Johnna, a native American, to be the family’s housekeeper, but why is a mystery.  The Sheriff appears to reveal something.  What?  The answer is the pivotal plot device that sets AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY on its climactic and unnerving course.

It might not be so bad if the whole thing was made up.  But the author admits that Violet, the vindictive, substance abusing mother, is based on his maternal grandmother, who he states, “was a piece of work.”  When Letts gave the play to his mother to read, he was nervous, but her first response was, “I think you’ve been very kind to my mother.”  Kind?  Only if kind means Attila the Hun on meth!

The Weathervane production, under the sharp eye of Jacqui Lowey, is a well conceived community theatre level staging.  The characters are clearly etched.  Most of the emotional development shows clear motivation.  There is a nice level of character development rather than actors just playing roles.

Alex Cikra walks the difficult line making Beverly Weston into a believable drunk.  So often actors go too far, feigning slurring and unsteadiness.  No such problem here, Cikra does drunk well.

Laura Stitt has the most difficult role of the three sisters, as she needs to be in emotional control almost throughout.  She achieves the right levels of pathos and frustration.  Tina Thompkins nicely underplays Johnna, the Native American housekeeper.

Tom Stephan portrays the henpecked Uncle Charlie, who morphs into a man with a backbone, effectively.  Harriet DeVeto, as the pill popping Violet, the clans mother, is generally effective, though sometimes it is difficult to see her level of clarity versus drug induced stupor.

Alan Scott Ferrall’s set design is impressive.  The three level set is era correct, realistic, and except for the difficulty for those in the first five or so rows to see the action on the highest level, works well.

Be aware, as the publicity and the play’s opening announcement reminds, that this is definitely a show for adults only, as the language is rough, with almost all four letter words repeated numerous time.  This is not a script for the up-tight.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Weathervane production of AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY is a well conceived community theatre level staging and well worth the drive to Akron.