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Theater review: 4 Stars - Vintage’s “August: Osage County” long, but it delivers
The Weston family patriarch lays out the arrangement pretty clearly in the first scene of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning tale of a seething clan that emphasizes the “dys” in “dysfunctional.”
“My wife takes pills, and I drink; that’s the bargain we struck,” says Beverly Weston (Roger Hudson) to Johnna Monevata (Emily Gerhard), the home care aide he’s interviewing to help his wife, Violet, who has cancer.
Just why Violet takes pills and he drinks reveals itself slowly over the next 3 1/2 hours in this condensed epic fraught with addiction, jealousy, guilt, fury, adultery and long-guarded secrets. When the audience dispersed after last Sunday’s matinee, one woman told another, “Thanksgiving at my in-laws’ doesn’t look that bad now.”
The Westons seem pretty typical at first glance. Bev is genial enough, if undeniably drunk, in Hudson’s exaggeratedly careful diction and deliberate movements. His tiny wife Violet (Deborah Person) is a terrifying piece of work, igniting at the thought of a spark and so brittle that her relatives seem to hold their breaths in her malicious presence. Only her sister Mattie Fae (Darcy Kennedy, a savage belle, remains unintimidated.
The extended family rallies when Bev Weston goes inexplicably missing. Violet is vaguely fretful, divided between speculating about Bev and sniping at her daughters Ivy (Kelly Uhlenhopp), who is single, and Barbara (Haley Johnson), who arrives from Colorado with her husband and teenaged daughter in tow. The tension between Barbara and Violet is nearly palpable when Violet accuses Barbara of “breaking her father’s heart” by moving away from the Oklahoma homestead. And gimlet-eyed Violet doesn’t miss the friction between Barbara and her husband (Marc Stith), tacitly separated after his affair with one of his students.
Things are bad, and get worse. Bev’s empty boat is found, and then his body is discovered. After the funeral, the gloves come off — along with the men’s jackets, until Violet shames them into putting them back on, galvanizing a grim laugh from the audience.
“August: Osage County” gets darker with the arrival of Karen (Lauren Bahlman), the remaining of the three Weston Sisters, and her sketchy fiancé Steve (Andrew Uhlenhopp). Their presence excavates terrible secrets, old and new, about Ivy, about Mattie Fay, about Bev, about Steve, and Violet. Almost nobody goes unscathed. Even Mattie Fay’s unflappable husband Charlie (John Ashton, in full mensch mode, rails at his wife’s unforgivable attacks on their son, Little Charlie (Brandon Palmer, so fragile he seems breakable). Barbara attacks Violet, who only briefly is rattled before unraveling into a genuinely terrifying she-devil.
Sounds like fun, huh? Well, buckle up. This is a long play — there are two intermissions — and the stellar cast is more than equal to the demanding script. Even the smaller roles shine, particularly Ashton and Kennedy, and anyone who saw Persoff as affable Maud in “Harold and Maud” will see Maud’s venal doppelganger.
“August: Osage County” is a play that insists on picking at scabs, and at fresh wounds, for that matter, but it will leave you thinking about truth, lies and love. And it probably will make you feel a lot better about your own family reunions.
By Claire Martin. September 7, 2017