Review: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY stuns at DIRT DOGS

a brilliant production of an amazing play at the MATCH

By: May. 29, 2023
Review: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY stuns at DIRT DOGS

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY debuted back in December of 2007 in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre.  Since then it seems to have won every major dramatic prize including several Tonys, a Pulitizer, and been adapted into an Oscar nominated film starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.  To say it comes with an unmatched pedigree is understatement, and to state it is one of the hardest shows to produce comes along with that.  Dirt Dogs’ current incarnation of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is the finest work they have done in over eight years at the MATCH, and it is easily among the best things running this year in Houston theater.  This show is cast immaculately, technical design nears flawless, and direction is tight and wrought.  It is operatic, it is epic, and it is a must-see for fans of excellence in theatrical arts.  


The narrative revolves around the sudden disappearance of a family’s alcoholic patriarch which leads to a dysfunctional reunion of the Weston brood in a three story house in Oklahoma.  Violet Weston is the mother who has mouth cancer, and is severely addicted to a myriad of pills which she takes by the handful.  She viciously spits vile attacks at her three daughters as they all come back into her life for the family crisis.  The show moves from one mental meltdown to the next, sometimes erupting in sexual or physical violence.  Make no mistake, this is Greek tragedy writ large into pure Americana.  Medea seems tame by comparison.   

 Deborah Hope does the heavy lifting in the play as the drug addled Violet, mother and monster all rolled into one.  The part is so far from Deborah’s real life persona, and it is amazing to watch her completely inhabit this woman who goes through several levels of high and mean.  It’s a bravura performance that is breath-taking to witness.  As amazing as her turn is, she is certainly not onstage alone.  Elizabeth Marshall Black plays her eldest daughter Barbara, and she is Deborah’s equal in any scene they share.  The real fireworks of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY happen when these two come together and play off each other.  Their scenes are a masterclass in how actors can hit many different levels all at once, and there is not a beat that doesn’t feel achingly realistic.  These two women are among the best actors working in Houston today, and to see them together is nothing short of revelatory.  They play the rough edges without fear, and turn despair into poetic moments of beauty.  

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY has a cast full of excellent performances, and this is easily the best ensemble work I have seen in a Houston play bar none.  From John Raley’s singular scene portrayal of patriarch Beverly Weston to Brad Goertz’s simple small town sheriff, the performances are impeccable.  The script allows a beat or a scene for every character, and these actors take full advantage of their moment to smolder.  Melissa Marek as middle sister Ivy is heartbreaking, while Katrina Ellsworth (who has been seen in Tracy Letts shows before) is a breath of bold air as youngest sister Karen.  Elizabeth Byrd Shipsey fully embodies sister to Violet Mattie Fae, and her husband is equally striking played by Brian Broome.  Bill Giffen is effectively creepy as Karen’s inappropriate fiance, and Elena Vazquez plays a pot-smoking cinema obsessed teen convincingly.  Elissa Cuellar is by far the most grounded and stable character as Johnna the put-upon caretaker of Violet.  Justin Morgan Brown punctuates the depression and loss of Little Charles.  And finally, Jeff Featherston portrays Barabara’s “yearning to be free of this mess” intellectual husband with a literary grace.  Not one single moment isn’t perfectly realized or wasted.   

I am not sure how director Ron Jones managed this, but the play runs two hours and forty-five minutes with two ten minute intermissions and is paced expertly.  It is twenty-five minutes faster than the Broadway production, so I imagine he has exacted precise control on the beats and how they play out.  Often scenes dovetail and dialogue overlaps.  He has effectively conducted this symphonic script to soar in motion and dialogue.  Technically all around the play is a marvel.  Jim Elliott’s lights score the piece as much as Isai Leal’s sound design does, and both pulsate under the actors as if alive.  Melinda L. Beckham’s costumes and props are spot on and agile in a show with tons of small business and quick changes.  But perhaps most awe-inspiring is Mark Lewis’s two story set that goes up, down, and outside of the house in amazing configurations.  

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is a miracle to witness, a dizzying mix of tragedy and dark comedy that is pulled off in this flawless adaptation from DIRT DOGS.  As a company I used to picture them as the perfect mix of edgy machismo and testosterone, but here they offer the flip-side of that coin.  This is the estrogen-fueled rage between mothers and daughters that proves just as powerful as any Mamet or Shepard shrine to masculinity.  It cements them as one of Houston’s most powerful producers. To watch Deborah Hope and Elizabeth Marshall Black spar in this one is as frightening as any sequence in the company’s previous production of MISERY.  The play harbors a terrifying amount of emotional violence, and the company pulls off the storm so effectively you may come out as traumatized as any of the characters.  This is vital and alive theater of the best kind.  The audience is left shaken to the core.  One man remarked as he left the auditorium, "Man!  Remind me to never complain about Thanksgiving with my in-laws ever again."

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY runs at the MATCH complex through June 10th.  Tickets can be acquired through the MATCH site or box office.  More information on the show can be found at DIRTDOGSTHEATRE.ORG/S7/AOC  .  Photo is provided courtesy of Pin Lim and features Deborah Hope and Elizabeth Marshall Black.  




RELATED STORIES - Houston

1
Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. to Open Season 8 With THE BIRDS Photo
Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. to Open Season 8 With THE BIRDS

DIRT DOGS THEATRE CO. opens Season 8 with 'The Birds' in a thrilling production.

2
Alley Theatre Launches Yo Soy Houston Mariachi Community Project Photo
Alley Theatre Launches Yo Soy Houston Mariachi Community Project

Alley Theatre has announced the Yo Soy Houston Mariachi community project. El Zócalo’s Yo Soy Houston Mariachi provides Alley Theatre audiences with a unique and vibrant pre-show experience that warmly welcomes Houston's Mariachi community into the captivating world of American Mariachi. Learn more about the project here!

3
Houston Grand Opera Opens the 2023-24 Season With INTELLIGENCE Photo
Houston Grand Opera Opens the 2023-24 Season With INTELLIGENCE

On October 20, 2023, Houston Grand Opera (HGO) will launch its new season with a company-commissioned world premiere, the new American epic Intelligence, produced in collaboration with the Urban Bush Women. Learn more about the upcoming performance here!

4
IM NOT A COMEDIAN… IM LENNY BRUCE Makes Houston Premiere in October Photo
I'M NOT A COMEDIAN… I'M LENNY BRUCE Makes Houston Premiere in October

The Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center will present a two-run limited engagement of “I'M NOT A COMEDIAN… I'M LENNY BRUCE” starring critically-acclaimed actor Ronnie Marmo. Learn more about the play and how to get tickets here!

From This Author - Brett Cullum

Brett Cullum has been part of the Houston and Memphis Theatre scenes for several decades now. He's been seen on community theatre and professional stages in several cities including Playhouse 1960... Brett Cullum">(read more about this author)

Videos


#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Come From Away (Non-Equity)
Lutcher Theater (3/14-3/14)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# NUNSENSE
MVE/BBYMT Studio Theatre (9/28-10/08)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Forever Plaid
The George Theater (9/06-10/01)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# A Doll's House, Part 2
Theatre Southwest (9/15-9/30)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
The Center for the Arts & Sciences (12/08-12/17)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Mean Girls (Non-Equity)
Lutcher Theater (11/04-11/04)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# #Enough: Plays to End Gun Violence
Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company (11/06-11/06)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# The Addams Family
Alvin Community College Theatre (10/21-10/29)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Come From Away (Non-Equity)
Rudder Theatre Complex [Rudder Auditorium] (6/25-6/26)
#repshow# in #getregions.name[i]# Girl From the North Country
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts (4/30-5/05)
VIEW ALL SHOWS  ADD A SHOW  

Recommended For You