‘August: Osage County’ stunning at Weathervane
|Harriet DeVeto (Violet Weston), at left, and Tari Lyn Bergoine (Barbara Fordham) star in Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “August: Osage County."|
|Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse|
Playwright Tracy Letts created more than a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. He wrote an intriguing, involving script that will stand the test of time, as the Weathervane production illustrates. The script grew out of his work in the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago.
August in Osage County, Okla., smolders with oppressive heat. The open plains complement the large three-story house that has long been the home for the Weston family. The heat and the house are as important as any character in the script.
Letts wrote a defining moment for each of the 13 characters. The members of the family have gathered back at their home for a family event. As they talk, personal secrets tumble out and they learn how those secrets impact each member of the family. The time flies by as the definitive dysfunctional family fights its way through a family reunion generated by a death in the family. These folks may love each other and, yet, most shouldn’t be left alone in a room with any one of the family.
Violet Weston (Harriet DeVeto) is the matriarch of the Weston family. Violet and her husband, Beverly (Alex Cikra), have three daughters: Barbara Fordham (Tari Lyn Bergoine), Ivy Weston (Laura Stitt) and Karen Weston (Mary Mahoney). The family tree is rounded out with Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (April Deming), Charlie Aiken (Tom Stephan) and their son, Little Charles Aiken (Frank Castorena). Johnna Monevata (Tina Thompkins) as the cook and housekeeper is almost a member of the family.
I’ve not seen a funeral meal on the stage until “August: Osage County.” But Letts created a family funeral feast that stages the best and worst of American culture. As Uncle Charlie Aiken stumbles through a prayer before the meal, Steve Heidebrecht (Richard Worswick), Karen’s fiancé, receives a call on his cell phone and leaves the table. When he finishes the call and returns to the family table, he freezes, hearing the prayer is still in progress. Yes, in the middle of funeral and grief, the Weston family can make us laugh. On opening night Stephan received generous applause from the audience for his delivery of the prayer.
In the Weathervane production, the acting is excellent. Director Jacqi Loewy takes advantage of making each member of the cast distinctive and special. Loewy had her work cut out for her with a large cast and a script that truly is a novel on stage, but she leads her cast to play this magnificent script in the same key. Everything is in harmony: the cast, set and direction.
The most interesting performance of the evening was DeVeto’s work. I’ve not seen DeVeto in such a large, demanding role. She made Violet Weston a variety of characters — pill popper, truth teller and semi-loving mother.
Bergoine as the eldest daughter illustrates the unhappiness of a woman whose life has not gone well. The three daughters expose their frustrations and in doing so seem to accept that their lives will not get much better.
Scenic designer Alan Scott Ferrall and a group of volunteers created the big rambling three-story Weston house. The set accommodates the family and never seems crowded. In fact, the set seems to parallel the plains of Oklahoma. This is the set Shakespeare would have wanted if he’d had the money.
“August: Osage County” is a first-rate production that should not be missed. Too many people are involved in this production to single out many of the deserving for special recognition. This powerful production is a great way for Weathervane to introduce its 78th season. However, for those afraid of bold language, be aware — the language and situations are adult. Loewy helps her cast members to toss off the naughty words as if they use them every day.
Unfortunately, the show will only run through Sept. 23. I suspect this production will be sold out. For tickets, call 330-836-2626.
David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
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