BWW Review: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, the Best Dramatic Play in Kansas City
Watching the play August: Osage County it is easy to understand why it won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. You only need to watch a few minutes of the Barn Players production to know that you are in for something special. Before the evening is over you realize you are viewing the best dramatic production to appear in Kansas City in the last several seasons. August: Osage County, written by Tracy Letts, opened Friday May 30 at the Barn Players in Mission, Kan.
The director, Darren Sextro, has put together one of the most dynamic casts to appear on a Kansas City stage. The three-act play takes place over several weeks at the home of Beverly and Violet Weston. Bev, the patriarch of the family has just hired a Native American to help take care of his ailing wife. As more members of the family come to the home, we discover that Bev has disappeared and feared dead. What happens over the next three acts is a dark comedy that looks at the most dysfunctional family to be exposed on stage.
The set captivates the audience as they enter the small theater, which has given up some of the seating for the elaborate set designed by Frank Polleck. The set makes the Barn stage one of the best dressed in Kansas City and the best that any community theater could hope to have. Chuck Cline designed the lighting, which sets the mood for each scene in the house by illuminating only the area used.
John Rensenhouse plays the father Beverly Weston. Though his time on stage is short, his powerful delivery sets the tone for the play. Rensenhouse began his career at the Barn Players as Starbuck in The Rainmaker in 1975. He is the Managing Director of the Kansas City Actors Theatre, directing their production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. The Kansas City Star declared the production to be the Best Play of 2013.
Anita Meehan brings to life the character of Violet Weston, the mother with an addiction to pills. Her performance is brilliant, drawing the audience into her character. She puts on one of the strongest performances of live theater in Kansas City. She has previously appeared at the Barn in the Follies, Dangerous Liaisons, and Prelude to a Kiss.
Barbara Fordham is the oldest daughter of Bev and Violet, masterfully played by Barb Nichols. Nichols is superb as the sibling that is outraged at her mother's actions and the family in general. She returns to the stage, having spent time as a director of several shows at the Barn including Chess, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Secret Garden, and Urinetown.
Jennifer Coville-Schweigert plays the Native American Johnna Monevata who takes the job of looking after Violet. She is wonderful as the only character in the house that does not go off in a rage that is until she believes that 14 year-old Jean Fordham, played by Courtney Desko, is being taken advantage of. When that happens, hide the skillet. She is a Producer and Board President of She & Her Productions that presented Jekyll & Hyde in March at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.
The remainder of the talented cast includes Pam Haskin as Mattie Fae Aiken, Elizabeth Hillman as Ivy Weston, Greg Butell as Charlie Aiken, Eric Magnus as Bill Fordham, Trevor French as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Stasha Case as Karen Weston, Tim Ahlenius as Steve Heidebrecht, and Michael Bunn as Little Charles Aiken. There is no need to see the movie, if you see it anywhere but the Barn Players; you are most likely seeing second best.