Reston Community Players August: Osage CountyBy Genie Baskir • May 1st, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Reston Community Players
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
Through May12 th
3:30 with two intermissions
$18/$15 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed April 27th, 2012
August: Osage County is a not a Tolstoyish commentary on happy and unhappy families. It is only as long as one. It is a contained spill of emotion and vitriol between people who are supposed to love each other and the people who love them.
The show opens with Beverley Weston (Mark Yeager) in all of his alcoholic glory hiring American Indian Johnna Monevata (KJ Jacks) to be a live-in caretaker for his sick and prescription drug-addicted wife, Violet. Johnna needs the work and Bev needs someone who will talk T.S. Eliot with him; except that as soon as Johnna accepts the job, Bev leaves home never to return. His lecture on life to Johnna is, in reality, a suicide declaration. Bev’s disappearance is the impetus for the extended family to return home to the big house on the prairie and yell at one another. Discovery of his body and the funeral are the accelerants for a family conflagration. The dialog is strictly invective here.
The fundaments of the plot are Violet Weston and, subordinately, Mattie Fae Aiken (Gayle Nichols-Grimes), two sisters of painful and hard scrabble origin trying to cope with happiness in their lives. Neither woman can manage joy so each has sabotaged her own fulfillment and visited their respective lamentations on the next generation and the next after that, meaning Violet’s granddaughter, Jean (Andra Dindzans).
Violet married the equally wretched Beverley Weston. Beverley has triumphed over his own early suffering to become an award-winning and best-selling poet and literature professor. Academic respect and financial success are not enough for Bev and Violet who cannot graciously savor their personal triumphs over early adversities; they raise three daughters in maladjusted wealth thereby condemning all three to personal defeat as adults. Bev and Violet find their mutual satisfaction in alcohol and pills, cooping themselves up in the big old ramshackle house and covering the windows with newspapers. Mattie Fae, in the meantime, had married the sweet Charlie (Randall Baughman), a happy man from a happy background who is completely clueless to the ultimate betrayal Mattie Fae perpetrated against him. Mattie Fae, unable to blame herself for her betrayal, instead blames hers and Charles’ son, Little Charles (Matt Williams), for her own deficiencies and regrets.
Director Andrew JM Regiec skillfully assembled a cast that looks like they are really a family. Physical traits are repeated through the generations and this realism seals the show’s credibility. The Director’s critical eye for appearance and talent made this reviewer feel like an eavesdropper invading the neighbors’ privacy instead of minding her own business. It is difficult to give a proper picture of this play without spoiling the secrets that eventually tumble out; however, it must be said that Letts’ genius is that he knows at what point in the play the audience becomes restless and let’s another thunderbolt strike at someone in that profoundly battered family.
Bev and Violet’s three grown daughters, Barbara (Lee Slivka), Ivy (Leta Hall), and Karen (Marisa Johnson) are a study in juvenile predicament and adult dilemma. Barbara and Karen return home with men who appear to be all right, but who are, in fact, perverse creeps with a taste for teenage girls. Terminal spinster Karen is engaged to the smooth and thrice married Steve (Dino Coppa) who attempts to revisit his youth by getting high and friendly with 14-year-old Jean, Barbara’s daughter. Barbara is trying to keep secret the fact that she and her husband, Bill (Rich Bird) are divorced; Bill having left Barbara for one of his nubile and enticing, teenaged college students. Ivy lives nearby to her parents seemingly content to live alone in all senses of that word in the middle of nowhere. Jean lives in contempt for her parents and apathy for anyone else. Andra Dindzans is so terrific in her role as a snarky, back talking little brat that your reviewer thought she was actually in the company of her own daughter on a Friday night. Your reviewer’s daughter did audition for this role and the daughter also worked with Dindzans previously.
In the vortex of this tornado on the plain is Johnna. She calmly cooks for and cleans up after this army of kvetchy adults who are compelled to hurl at one another the petty resentments at the upbringing by Bev and Violet. Violet, who really is an incarnation of maternal harm, seems justified in calling foul on her daughters’ laments of privileged childhood unhappiness until she has one of her demonic outbursts and we understand the three daughters’ mix of hate and affection toward a mother still battling resentments from her own youth. The only peace and clarity to be found is through Johnna who grew up poor, but loved. Charles and Little Charles are sweet satellites caught in the black hole that is the Weston clan. They are loved but not valued.
Suib and Nichols-Grimes are towering talents and carry the burden of the older generation. Your reviewer has worked with Suib before, in production. Suib’s pill-addled incoherency alternating with cutting sobriety reflect choices learned from a lifetime of training; while Nichols-Grimes allows Mattie Fae to fill the room when she’s there and leaving us wanting her back when she leaves. Slivka indicates her future as the new family virago and she quakes with old and new rage at the unfair turn her life has taken. The entire talented ensemble replicates the bond of a family and they move around each other with a familiarity borne of generations of bloodline.
All of this action takes place in a cross-section of a real house built in the Center Stage Theatre. Set Designer Maggie Modig created a full home that anyone could live in and not a stage home for which the actual plans would be preposterous. The procession of scenes and simultaneous activity in the big house are managed by Ken and Patti Crowley’s skillful lighting design. The lighting plot advances the complicated action and eliminates audience confusion as the narrative is expedited with the brightening and dimming of lights on the various parts of the house. The costuming (Melissa Jo York-Tilley) of the characters is so ordinary and banal as to reinforce the idea that we really are all spying on the neighbors and the props plot is a master of precision as the scenes progress and the figurative body count increases. This play has to be seen to understand just how properties can make or break a play. The show’s reality is grounded in its props.
While the size of the cast of this show is manageable, the production crew was an army of dedicated masters creating the magic and illusion that is theatre. A night out at RCP is a bargain and its August: Osage County can readily compete with the tour that came to the Kennedy Center two Christmases ago.
Your disheveled reviewer advises everyone to dress comfortably, bring a pillow and see this show.
Family: biological or social, we all have one….people who know you well (perhaps too well) and despite the passage of time can quickly pick right up-laughing, fighting, crying. A sense of shared past anchors the relationships and provides that intangible feeling of being home and a sense of place in the pecking order.
The action in the play takes place in the span of one month (August 2006) for the Weston family, who hail from Pawhuska, Oklahoma, located in Osage County, which is also the Osage Indian Reservation. (A personal theory is that the house was built on some ancient burial ground, invoking a cursed life for all who live there!) The story is based somewhat on the author’s maternal grandparents-the extent of this he doesn’t confirm. The personal exposure of the family’s underbelly is reminiscent of O’Neil and Williams-with rich characters, complex familial relationships, frank dialogue-funny but stinging, caring but cautious, helpful and hurting. Such richness is a rare thing and a pleasure for actors, directors and audiences. There is a certain satisfaction in experiencing the inevitable consequences of another family going through such disparaging emotions daring to say things that all of us have thought-but few of us would ever actually voice-with extraordinary eloquence and cutting-edge humor.
While it covers a multitude of topical issues, they serve as fodder to examine the relationships and demonstrate the ties that bind and the conditions in which they are strengthened or shatter. Despite any humor, there is a sadness in the realization that, stripped of our family bonds, we are alone. As Eliot says, “this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.” Dissipation is much worse than cataclysm.
While they come together as a family, they each take their individual path, That you can never go home again is true-the house may be the same, but as individuals we change. Perhaps it is the support of family-however dysfunctional-that provides us the impulse to do so, for better or worse, but the decision is ours alone.
In 2008 August: Osage County received the Drama Desk award, the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Drama League Award, New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award, Outer Critics Circle Award. We hope we do justice to this prestigious piece, for it was an honor to delve into and share it with you.
- Beverley Weston: Mark Yeager
- Violet Weston: Mary suib
- Barbara Fordham: Lee Slivka
- Bill Fordham: Rich Bird
- Jean Fordham: Andra Dindzans
- Ivy Weston: Leta Hall
- Karen Weston: Marisa Johnson
- Mattie Fae Aiken: Gayle Nichols-Grimes
- Charlie Aiken: Randall Baughman
- Little Charles Aiken: Matt Williams
- Johnna Monevata: KJ Jacks
- Steve Heidebrecht: Dino Coppa
- Sheriff Deon Gilbeau: David Gorsline
- Producer: Eileen Mullee
- Director: Andrew JM Regiec
- Assistant Director: Tomas Huntley
- Stage Manager: Mary Ann Hall
- Assistant Stage Manager: Michael J. O’Connor
- Set Designer, Scenic Artist: Maggie Modig
- Costume Design: Melissa Jo York-Tilley
- Technical Director: Skip Larson
- Properties: Mary Jo Ford, Alexandra Lee
- Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
- Sound Design: Rich Bird, Rich Claar
- Set Dressing: Sue Pinkman, Sharon Pound
- Stage Combat Choreography: Steve Lada
Disclaimer: Reston Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. RCP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio.net web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7958.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.