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Lakeland Civic Theatre presents depressing, well staged AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Lakeland Civic Theatre presents depressing, well staged AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY

Roy Berko

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

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

The dark comedy centers on Beverly Weston, an alcoholic, the family patriarch, and award winning poet who-disappears.  We quickly learn that 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 seems to be a mystery.

The Sheriff appears to reveal something.  What?  The answer is the pivotal plot device that sets AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY on its unnerving course.

It might not be so depressing if the whole thing was made up.  But the author admits that the character, 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 Lakeland production, under the direction of Martin Friedman, is a well conceived, if overly long, staging.  While the first act drags a little, the second act speeds towards its upsetting conclusion at a roller coaster pace.  The characters are clearly etched.  For the most part, there is a nice level of character development rather than actors just playing roles.

Bob Abelman makes Beverly Weston into a believable drunk.  So often actors go too far, feigning slurring and unsteadiness.  No such problem here. Abelman does drunk well.

Annie McElvoy, as the pill popping Violet, the clan’s mother, is effective, swinging from drug induced fuzziness to rational clarity and back again.

Courtney Nicole Auman, as Ivy, 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. Diane Mull, as Barbara, a victim of possessing the psychological worst of both of her parents, effectively fizzles out before our eyes.

Caitlin Post nicely underplays Johnna, the Native American housekeeper, working at the Weston home out of financial necessity.

Jeffrey Glover effectively portrays the henpecked Uncle Charlie, who morphs into a man with a backbone.  Rose Leninger, is focused correctly as Mattie Fae, a bitter woman with a secret.  Jeremy  Jenkins, as Little Charles, a boy/man who has been thoroughly psychologically whipped by, Mattie Fay, his mother, is correctly pathetic.

The rest of the cast nicely develops their roles.

Keith Nagy’s three level set is a perfect setting.  It is cluttered, dark and depressing, as sad as its occupants.

Be aware this production is not a show for the up-tight or those looking for a light, escapist comedy.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Lakeland production of AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY is a well-conceived staging of an award winning script, and though not for everyone, makes for a well worth drive to Lake County.

For tickets to AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, which runs through October 5, call 440-525-7134 or go to