August: Osage County

I came into Keegan Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” as a long time fan of Mr. Letts’ work.  I was first introduced to him in 1995 while living in London through a production of “Killer Joe” and then later his Off-Broadway show “Bug”, both of which featured future Academy Award Nominee Michael Shannon.  I was also fortunate to twice take in the Broadway production of “August: Osage County”.  Keegan’s production stands up well, hitting the right tone and tenor for the various twists and moments of humor from a family uniting after the disappearance of the husband and father of the family.  I was fortunate enough to watch this production with someone who had not seen it before and enjoy once again the reaction of a first time viewer to those various twists, which just confirmed that Keegan was hitting the mark.

One criticism – which admittedly is probably a bit hyper-critical – comes from early in the production and the performance of Rena Cherry Brown as the pill popping family matriarch, Violet Weston.  It is ultimately unfair because I am comparing it to the Tony winning performance of Deanna Dunagan; however, some of the subtler moments of potential humor early in the play that were nailed by Ms. Dunagan were lost.  Most striking in my mind was the the first entrance of Violet and her first descent down the full staircase, in the magnificent set.  Ms. Dunagan was able to take that staircase in such a manner and so expertly that it portrayed someone who was addicted to prescription pills and elicited laughter.  Of course, this should not take away from the remainder of Ms. Brown’s portrayal, which was spot on.

This production really took off with the arrival on stage of the eldest daughter Barbara, portrayed by Susan Marie Rhea.  She inhabited the character expertly and the production never looked back.  The most enjoyable moments were the give and take between Barbara and Violet, which isn’t surprising as they are the primary characters through which the story flows.  Mr. Letts has created a family that would be prime candidates for an episode of Jerry Springer, an alcoholic father, a pill popping mother, the domineering daughter and pot smoking granddaughter, just to name a few.  Each member of this extended family has something they are hiding, but one of the great things of this show is the discovering those secrets as the show moves along.  The members of the Weston clan, and the extended family, are so flawed there is potential that they could come acress unlikeable.  But for the one character who is never given the opportunity to have any redeeming qualities they all have an endearing quality and credit goes to the cast for eliciting that from Mr. Letts writing.

The production clocks in at almost 4 hours including two intermissions, but you won’t look down at your watch and the time will fly by, particularly during the second act that takes place during a family dinner and a telling of truths that culminates in a wonderful confrontation between Barbara and Violet.  There are moments where you can only wish your family get togethers were this entertaining, like when Kevin Adams, as Charlie Aiken, confronts his grand neice Jean Fordham, portrayed by Lindsay Rini, about why she is a vegetarian. Of course, this is contrasted with a wonderfully cringe worthy moment from Little Charles, portrayed by Michael Innocenti.  But as an audience you sit back and enjoy this family gathering of all family gatherings.

The set designer and set dresser deserve special mention, as they did a wonderful job.  On Broadway they re-created a three story house and if you’ve ever been to the Church Street Theater you would know that wasn’t possible, or so you would think.  They have wonderfully created a three story home on essentially two stories.  The set dresser wonderfully created a home in disarray from being cared for by an alcoholic and prescription drug addict.  It is noted, for those arriving early, or who stay seated through the intermissions the actors remain on stage in character and complete the set changes between acts.

All-in-all a stellar production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County”

Up Next: Wicked on Broadway
Up Next in DC: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Woolly Mammoth

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