BWW Q&A: Ellen McLaughlin on AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

On stage through April 7th, 2024.

By: Apr. 02, 2024
BWW Q&A: Ellen McLaughlin on AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
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Finishing out The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ 2023/24 Season is the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning powerhouse drama, August: Osage County by acclaimed contemporary playwright Tracy Letts.

Named a “turbo-charged tragicomedy” by The New York Times, August: Osage County performances began March 19, 2024, and run through April 7, 2024 at the Loretto-Hilton Center.  Tickets are available at repstl.org.

This Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning family drama is equal parts heartfelt and heart-wrenching. In this stark Midwestern family tableau a pill-popping and manipulative matriarch, a vanished patriarch and three daughters with secrets of their own are called back to the family home in Oklahoma as familial tensions rise. August: Osage County  gives an in-depth look at what it takes to keep a family together.

Directed by The Rep’s former Associate Artistic Director and current Impact Producer & Co-Director of Artistic Programming at Actors Theatre of Louisville, Amelia Acosta Powell, August: Osage County features a compelling cast of local and national talent including St. Louis’ own Joneal Joplin as the patriarch of the family, Beverly Weston.A true icon of the local theatre scene, Joplin is gracing the stage once again after over one hundred productions at The Rep.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep) is the region’s premiere theatre for compelling, award-winning theatrical experiences that entertain, engage, and illuminate audiences’ shared humanity. Founded in 1966, for more than five decades The Rep has sustained and built upon its commitment to artistic excellence by creating, developing, and curating adventurous new works and beloved classics from the most exciting emerging and established American voices. The Rep builds bridges within the St. Louis community and beyond by offering productions that allow audiences to see themselves and the stories that matter to them represented on stage, through the organization’s robust community engagement programs, and across its educational initiatives.

The Rep welcomes audiences with inspiring and expansive productions at several inviting stages across St. Louis including the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts and other venues around the St. Louis area. A thought leader in The National Theatre landscape, The Rep is a dedicated partner with arts organizations in St. Louis and across the country, expanding audiences’ appreciation and understanding of the world through theatre. In December 2023, The Rep was named a Missouri Historical Theatre, which is awarded to theaters that contribute to tourism in Missouri, promote arts in its community and throughout Missouri, and has been operational for a minimum of 50 years. For more information, please visit repstl.org and follow @repstl.

Ellen McLaughlin has worked extensively in regional, international and New York theater, both as an actor and as a playwright.  Broadway: Acting work includes originating the part of the Angel in Angels in America, playing the role in workshops and regional productions through its original Broadway run.  NY Theatre: Alice in Blue Window (MTC). Regional: includes the Homebody in Homebody/Kabul (Intiman), Pirate Jenny in A Threepenny Opera (Trinity Rep. Elliot Norton Award), Claire in Albee's A Delicate Balance (Arena Stage, Yale Rep), Margie in Good People (George St. Theater, Seattle Rep), Penelope and The Year of Magical Thinking (Playmakers' Rep), Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream (McCarter, Papermill), and Nany in Seascape (ACT).  Most recently, she played the title role in King Lear at Colorado Shakespeare Festival.  Her plays have been produced Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally.  She has taught playwrighting at Barnard College since 1995.

What drew you to the character of Violet Weston in August: Osage County?

She’s a bucket list part: rich, complex, and fascinating in the way the damage done to her has driven her to damage everyone around her.

How do you prepare for such a complex and emotionally demanding role?

I am taking good care of my body—I need a lot of stamina for this, and my spirit—I don’t want to be swept into her vortex more than I have to be in order to play her.

As an actor who has also worked extensively as a playwright, how does your experience in writing influence your approach to acting?

I like to think that my writing makes me a better actor and my acting makes me a better writer. As a playwright, I understand the way that a character has to function in the structure of the play and I can see the play as a whole, which gives me an advantage as an actor when approaching a part. As an actor, I know and appreciate what actors can do with what’s on the page, and I have a sense of how a line wants to be spoken and a good ear for that, which is good for me as a writer.

What are your thoughts on the themes explored in August: Osage County, particularly around family dynamics and secrets?

I think it’s in the tradition of the big, ambitious American family plays, ranging from O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, through Tennessee Williams, Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Sam Shepard’s Buried Child. These are huge, masterful plays about the darkness at the center of the American family and explore the way that secrets eat at the fabric of things and will inevitably come to light.

How has it been working with director Amelia Acosta Powell and the rest of the cast?

It’s been a total pleasure. I didn’t know anyone in the cast and had never worked with Amelia, so it was a gamble, but oh, how it’s paid off. What a company—not a diva in sight, and so much talent. And Amelia is every actor’s dream as a director, a director who loves actors and trusts them and can urge them gently to their best work.

What do you hope audiences take away from your performance in August: Osage County?

I hope they can understand her a little no matter how appalling her ferocity. There is a reason she has become what she is.

Why must audiences come and see the show?

It’s a great play, given a beautiful, smart and robust production.




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