Players Presents Pulitzer Prize-Winning August: Osage County
by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder
Community Players’ final drama of the 95th season will be Tracy Letts’s masterwork, August: Osage County. Originally produced by the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, this family drama has since been staged on Broadway, in London, and around the world.
Set in a sprawling country home, just outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma, the play gathers together the Weston family, children, husbands, and grandchildren, after the disappearance of their patriarch, the alcoholic Beverly. Old grudges and fresh resentments surface, spurred on by the biting comments of Violet, Beverly’s cancer-ridden, drug-addicted wife. As in a Eugene O’Neill drama, the deeper into the evening we go, the darker the secrets that are revealed.
An interesting and sad note: Letts wrote the role of Beverly for his father, the actor Dennis Letts, who died during the Broadway run.
August: Osage County was the most celebrated play of its season, in fact of many seasons. The original Steppenwolf production opened in June 2007 and moved to Broadway that December, where it ran successfully until June 2009. It won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play (along with four other Tonys), the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rare Triple Crown. The Steppenwolf/Broadway cast took the show to London in November 2008. It has since been performed across the United States and around the world, including a Taiwanese production that moved the setting to Taiwan!
In 2013 a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts was released, with Letts adapting his play.
For our version, director John D. Poling has assembled and honed an excellent cast that brings energy and credibility to Tracy Letts’s characters. Kevin Yale Vernon leads the ensemble as the domineering, drug-addled family matriarch Violet Weston. Violet spars off with just about everyone in the Weston family but meets her match in daughter Barbara Fordham, played by Abby Scott. The friction between the two is intense and the two actors play off each other convincingly.
Alan Wilson plays Violet’s husband, Beverly. Their other daughters, Ivy and Karen, are played by Michelle Woody and Wendy Baugh, respectively. Len Childers plays Barbara’s estranged husband, Bill, and Hannah Blumenshine plays their teen-age daughter, Jean. Hannah may be the youngest in the cast, but she shares her scenes evenly with the adults and demonstrates an excellent stage presence.
Anne Cook plays Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken, with Randy Offner playing Mattie’s husband Charlie and Nathan Brandon Gaik playing their 37-year-old son “Little” Charles.
Connie Blick as the Weston’s servant Johnna Monevata provides some much needed calm and compassion to the tempest which is the Weston family. Brett Cottone plays sheriff and family friend Deon Gilbeau, and John Bowen, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, gives an uncomfortably credible performance as Karen’s sleazy fiancé, Steve Heidebrecht.
Jeremy Stiller has designed a beautiful multi-level box set which transports us to the Weston’s 2007-era home.
Working with Director Poling are Jennifer Rusk as assistant director and Sara Schramm as producer. Dan Virtue is lighting designer and Eli Mundy is doing the sound design. Cris Embree is in charge of costumes. Dorothy Mundy, Carol Plotkin, and Jen Bethmann are in charge of properties. Judy Stroh is stage manager, and Opal Virtue is house manager.
The advertisements for August: Osage County warn that the play contains “adult language and situations. Mature audiences only.” Expletives fly freely, indelicate language about private body parts is used, and family situations explode into violent confrontations. That said, there is a reason that the play won a Pulitzer Prize: It is compelling, gripping drama. It is also somewhat lengthy as plays go. With three acts, our production will have two 10-minute intermissions.
Sponsored by realtor and Community Players veteran Penny Wilson, the pay-what-you-can Preview performance is Thursday, May 3rd with regular performances May 4-6 and 11-13. August: Osage County runs only two weekends and there is no Thursday performance the second weekend. Evening performances begin at 7:30 and Sunday matinees are at 2:30.
Photos by John Lieder