BWW Reviews: The Hollow Family - AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
At the very beginning of the first act of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning black comedy "August: Osage County," Beverly Weston (Carl Schurr) quotes T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men," noting "Life is long...very long."
"August" is long-more than three hours, plus two intermissions. Beverly's opening monologue is long, the Weston family's list of assorted demons, downfalls and debacles is long. But the journey playwright Tracy Letts, director Vincent Lancisi, and the talented Everyman cast takes the audience is so rich, so teeming with shocks, smiles, sadness and surprises, one loses all sense of time...
...which seems to be the goal of family matriarch, Violet Weston (Linda Thorson) who has taped the windows so that no light may enter, leaving the home's occupants with "no sense of night or day."
It's August in Osage County, Oklahoma, 60 miles northwest of Tulsa, and it's hot; Violet refuses to turn on the air conditioning. But in this house, it appears life reached its zenith in 1964 with the publication of a famed tome of Beverly's poetry called Meadowlark. Beverly would not achieve such fame again. He would drink, Violet would become addicted to an entire pharmacy of pills which she keeps squirreled away throughout the house and other places too embarrassing to mention. Time does not pass here; it decays.
As one might expect, there's an incident which kicks the play into action; Beverly disappears, shortly after hiring housekeeper Johnna (Veronica Del Cerro), a young Cherokee woman with an old and stoic soul. Members of the Weston family return home: daughters Barbara (Deborah Hazlett), Ivy (Beth Hylton), and Karen (Maia Desanti), Barbara's husband, Bill (Rob Leo Roy) and their daughter, Jean (Heather Lynn Peacock), Ivy's cousin Little Charles (Clinton Brandhagen), Beverly's sister, Mattie Fae (Nancy Robinette) and her husband, Charlie (Wil Love).
In the course of the next three hours, this homage to Greek tragedy and Shakespearean comedy with a dash of O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," all manner of secrets are shared, some mistaken identity, infidelity, irony, comedy (some clever lines about America's "Greatest Generation," what it means to "eat fear" and Elizabeth Taylor) and enough family angst, heart-felt revelations, and hands-around-the-neck rage to entertain even the most discriminating audience.
"August: Osage County" is the first play to grace the stage of the Everyman Theatre's new home (what was once the old Town movie palace) on Fayette Street--with its diminutive stage and low ceiling, the Everyman's former North Charles Street locale could never have accommodated the enormous set, basically a CT scanner slice of a 3-story home, giving the audience views of bedrooms, hallways, dining room, living room and more.
Furthermore, "August" features a large cast, 13 actors, so an opportunity for many of the Everyman's resident company members like Carl Schurr, Deborah Hazlett, Wil Love, Bruce Nelson and Clinton Brandhagen, to shine.
And shine they do, in particular, Linda Thorson as Violet, who moves convincingly from razor sharp battle axe to trembling lost child with an ease few actors could emulate. Ms. Hazlett's performance as a wife losing her husband to a younger woman, her mother to pill-fueled insanity, her father to his own inner demons, and her sisters to life forces beyond her control, is amazing--she is funny, crazed, sad, lonely, and communicates more through the turn of her head or the shaking of her leg than most actors can with three pages of dialogue.
Everyone hits their mark; all are well cast, right down to the Ron Heneghan in the part of the town sheriff, Deon Gibeau. Handling the smallest role in the piece, Heneghan makes the most of it in his interplay with his former high school prom date, Barbara, as a somewhat shy man taken aback by the emotional tides that are sweeping around him.
In his tragedy, "MacBeth," Shakespeare speaks of life as teeming with "sound and fury, signifying nothing." There is much "sound and fury" in this play, as each character spews forth long-borne resentments and long-held secrets, emptying themselves of their inner burdens all over the stage. But the result is not cathartic; one does not sense, for example, that Mattie Fae (Nancy Robinette)'s confession does her soul any good--her time has passed, and she is now just "old, ugly Aunt Mattie." It is the same for all--in releasing their pain, they find they have nothing left. Like T.S. Eliot's poem, they are "hollow."
"August: Osage County" continues its run at the new Everyman, 315 W. Fayette Street, now through Feb. 17th. For tickets, visit www.everymantheatre.org or call 410-752-2208.