Keegan Theatre August: Osage CountyBy Genie Baskir • Aug 14th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through September 2nd
Reviewed August 11th, 2012
Editor’s Note: The reviewer left before the end of the performance. ShowBizRadio apologizes for this mistake and for the disrespect that the cast, crew and other audience members received.
August: Osage County is rapidly becoming my new Glengarry Glen Ross; I know every word of the script and I am compelled to see it over and over again. Keegan Theatre’s presentation of Tracy Letts’ semi-autobiographical story of his family from the black lagoon put upon me a different outlook and feeling for the characters than I heretofore contemplated. Wading through the literary minefield of spoiler alerts, the question must be asked: Why must we, collectively, be so aghast at prescription drug dependency in an individual who is quickly dying of terminal cancer? This individual will soon be dead anyway and an old person is not working or driving or doing anything to threaten the physical safety of others. However, the person policing the dying addict is more physically threatening and violent than most human beings and that is what is new and scary in Director Mark A. Rhea’s delivery of this baby. I hope this was his intent because this is what I propose.
It is Violet Weston’s poisonous disposition and her toxic delivery of love through passive and aggressive manipulation of the extended family via her use of her cancer to both garner sympathy and batter her loved ones that is the thesis of this play. Violet is the venus fly trap of mothers beguiling her loved ones with equanimity and musings of family loyalty and then devouring their humanity without even spitting the tough pieces out.
Violet Weston (Rena Cherry Brown) and her younger sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (Kerry Waters Lucas) survived a brutal upbringing to marry well and produce the next generation of the American Meritocracy. Violet married the equally harmed Beverly Weston (Stan Shulman) an award winning poet and literary professor; the two of them together cannot manage to leave behind their respective pain and indulge in happiness through success. Mattie Fae married the kind and unaffected Charlie Aikin (Kevin Adams) who loves her despite all of her efforts to be completely unlovable. Mattie Fae, too, cannot relieve herself of old pain to suffer new joy and she betrays Charlie through her abuse of their nearly middle-aged and ineffectual, misfit son, Little Charles (Michael Innocenti).
The three Weston daughters return home on the death by suicide of the chronically drunk Beverly to continue the pain into the next generation. Beverly planned his exit carefully, hiring Cheyenne Indian Johnna Monavita (Shadia Hafiz) to care for Violet in their now dilapidated and squalid big house on the prairie. In the end, it is the poor but loved Johnna who emerges whole from this war of privileged, meritocratic, financially secure and ungrateful losers and creeps. Granddaughter Jean Fordham (Lindsay Rini) continues the loserdom into the third generation as her high-strung and domineering mother Barbara (Susan Marie Rhea) and morally ambiguous father, Bill (Colin Smith), destroy their own nuclear family. Barbara’s sisters Karen (Karen Novack) and Ivy (Belen Pifel) defer to Barbara’s dominance as unpleasant truths emerge over the three acts. Karen inflicts her total creep of a fiancé (Charlie Abel) on this already den of vipers and Ivy is the only daughter to have stayed close and watched the extirpation of her family happen.
Violet Weston is the modern incarnation of Mama Rose Hovick, a part coveted by those actresses of a certain age with the chops to stew and spew for three hours. Rena Cherry Brown starts the story as a ghostlike wraith fading away before our eyes until the disappearance and death of her husband. With Beverly gone Violet gains steam and a pale beauty as she preys on her emotionally damaged family and flaunts her addiction to prescription painkillers and barbiturates. In fact her beauty increases along with her rage and abuse. Susan Marie Rhea as daughter Barbara is equal to the task as the self-righteous and morally superior oldest sister whose right jab and left hook make her a mixed martial arts smackdown contender; and that is what made this production so different from the others I’ve seen. This production’s Steve looks like the sleazy Florida player he is and Charlie Abel’s portrayal is up to that task of relating his vileness to all. Abel’s middle-aged good looks betray the repulsive core that Karen chooses to defend in order to save her own life.
Curiously, the show’s most compelling performances are by the two non-family characters. Shadia Haifiz as Johnna, the Cheyenne housekeeper, is a blank slate as she serves Violet and the family. She is a neutral presence, doing her job with alacrity, but no emotion, as she cleans and repairs the ratty homestead and cooks delicious food for everyone. When Johnna’s breakout moment happens Hafiz is superb and Johnna’s worth as an individual soars against the more fortunate ingrates she serves. Eric Lucas as Sheriff Dion Gilbeau radiates a Marlboro Man aura as Barbara’s high school prom date from decades ago. His modest magnetism against Barbara’s self-disgust works differently than I have previously seen done by other companies. It seems that the Sheriff also is trying to escape from a sordid background and his pain is kindred to the Weston clan’s although he has not let himself be compromised by that pain. Rhea has reconfigured the essence of these characters and a new play has emerged while still nailing the most comic and acerbic lines on their heads.
I did not like the set. The home (Stefan Gibson, Carol H. Baker, Katrina Wiskup) was recreated as some squalid dump left over from the Hatfield/McCoy feud. Violet and Beverly Weston are two old people of some financial worth who let a fine home fall into a disrepair analogous to themselves. Even after Johnna fixes the place up, it does not look like the home of people as accomplished as the Westons once were. This home looks like it should be the set of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and that is not a compliment.
Keegan Theatre has presented another great show with its always top quality production values and a new outlook on near vintage stories. August: Osage County is not an easy show to get up but Keegan manages against the fetters of its physical space to present a large story in a small, but well-used, space.
This show is the theatrical version of War and Peace, an exercise in forebearance that Keegan makes more than worthwhile.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
- Beverly Weston: Stan Shulman
- Violet Weston: Rena Cherry Brown
- Barbara Fordham: Susan Marie Rhea
- Bill Fordham: Colin Smith
- Jean Fordham: Lindsay Rini
- Ivy Weston: Belen Pifel
- Karen Weston: Karen Novack
- Mattie Fae Aikin: Kerry Waters Lucas
- Charlie Aikin: Kevin Adams
- Little Charles Aikin: Michael Innocenti
- Johnna Monavata: Shadia Hafiz
- Steve Heidebrecht: Charlie Abel
- Sheriff Dion Gilbeau: Eric Lucas
- Director: Mark A. Rhea
- Assistant Director: Christina A. Coakley
- Stage Manager: Alexis J. Rose
- Set Design: Stefan Gibson
- Costume Design: Erin Nugent
- Properties Designer: Katrina Wiskup
- Sound Design: Jake Null
- Lighting Design: Megan Thrift
- Fight Choreography: Kyle Encinas
- Hair and Makeup Design: Craig Miller
Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8425.
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.