BWW Review: St. Louis Actors' Studio's Superb and Intense AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Several years ago the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's touring production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY touched down at the Fox Theatre and I was blown away by it. I think it spoiled me with its massive set and terrific ensemble. So, when regional theatre companies began staging playwright Tracy Letts' work, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. But recently I saw the St. Louis Actors' Studio's presentation. Again, I thought this was a work that couldn't be scaled down to fit into the confines of a black box theatre. But, I was wrong. They've done an exceptional job with this production. The acting is superb, and somehow they've managed to parlay the intimacy into something that makes the play seem even more powerful. I think this is must-see theatre, and I urge you to check out this amazing production.
As the play begins the Weston family patriarch; poet and alcoholic, Beverly Weston, is in the process of interviewing a young Native American student, Johnna Monevata, for a position as housekeeper/caregiver for his pill-popping wife, Violet. This prologue sets the stage for the rest of the play, and it also provides the only appearance of Beverly, who goes missing, and is determined to have committed suicide. It's his disappearance, and his eventual discovery by the police, that brings together a extraordinarily dysfunctional group of relatives to mourn his passing. But, Violet is a force to be reckoned with, and a decision must be made on how to handle her addictions. At the same time each member of this family, extended or otherwise, seems to be living a lie, or hiding some dirty little secret that you know will be revealed at the absolutely worst possible moment.
Kari Ely is absolutely astounding as Violet, the acid-tongued mother to this bitter brood, stumbling around in a haze, completely oblivious to the carnage she leaves in her wake. It's a bravura performance, almost painful to watch, but mesmerizing nonetheless. And, she is matched step for step by a top notch cast.
Meghan Baker, Emily Baker, and Rachel Fenton are all excellent as Violet's daughters Barbara, Ivy and Karen, respectively. Meghan Baker impresses with a powerhouse portrayal, taking charge of the situation as the eldest, favored daughter, but not at all prepared for what that entails. Emily Baker's lovesick Ivy has already served her time caring for her mother, and her desire to escape is understandable. Rachel Fenton is bubbly and vivacious as the youngest daughter, who's desperate to connect with her sisters, despite the fact that none of them have been inclined to stay in touch with one another.
The supporting cast is also very good and features: Kim Furlow as Violet's concerned sister, who constantly browbeats her son Charles; William Roth as her beleaguered husband, Charlie; Stephen Peirick as "little" Charles, who finds himself becoming romantically involved with his first cousin Ivy; Drew Battles as Karen's sleazy and perverted boyfriend Steve; David Wassilak as Barbara's unfaithful husband Bill; Bridgette Bassa as her pot-smoking daughter Jean; Wendy Renee Farmer as the stoic, but steady Johnna; GP Hunsaker as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, a former beau of Barbara's; and Larry Dell in a brief, but memorable appearance as Beverly.
Wayne Salomon's direction is stellar, maintaining audience involvement throughout with clever and smoothly executed transitions and scene changes. Salomon also keeps the pace of this long (three hours plus intermissions) show chugging along quite nicely, and the acting is simply superlative. Patrick Huber's scenic design neatly compacts the original production's set design in very clever fashion, and it's all dramatically lit by Dalton Robison. Carla Landis Evans' costumes are splendid fits for this diverse collection of characters, and she also handles the props.
Letts has crafted something special here, drawing together compelling dramatic elements, and sprinkling in generous helpings of humor, as well as food for thought. And, there are literally dozens of memorable one liners to chew on as well.
This is a true theatrical event that demands your attention, so do yourself a favor and go see it immediately! The St. Louis Actors' Studio's marvelously crafted and executed staging continues through April 30, 2017.
Photo credit: John Lamb