A gorgeous new space deserves an equally stunning production. Everyman Theatre has pulled off this challenging feat with its sparkling renovation of the old Town Theater movie palace and its shattering and laugh-out-loud staging of playwright Tracy Letts’ mama drama August: Osage County.
Director (and Everyman’s Founding Artistic Director) Vincent M. Lancisi pulls out all the stops in regards to casting, set design and acting chops with this production. He manages to make more than 3 hours glide by like a dream—a savage, hilarious and anxiety-riddled dream about an Oklahoma family’s ghastly treatment of one another and the pack of lies they use to control and tear each other to shreds.
Reminiscent of A Long Day’s Journey into Night with a Plains twang or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with George and Martha still going at it hammer and tongs in their golden years, Mr. Letts’ play is an American original in its own right with its combination of boozy poetry, scabrous humor and wounded insights into not just a family, but a country that is sick and worn down from the inside out.
Daniel Ettinger’s multi-story set is an apt metaphor for the sad state of affairs in the Weston family and beyond. At first glance, it looks like a cozy and hand-hewn testament to the American dream of home ownership. But look closer and you notice the wooden stairs are a death trap, the old furniture all sharp edges and menace, the wallpaper and knick-knacks suffocating. It’s a house of horrors with lace tablecloths and the good silver.
And it’s hot in there. Matriarch Violet Weston (Linda Thorson) eschews air conditioning and in the middle of an Oklahoma summer, everyone suffers from her edict and from the backdraft of their emotions. The clan gathers in this metaphorical and physical hot house after the mysterious disappearance of Violet’s husband Beverly (an elegiac Carl Shurr), whom we meet in a brief and melancholy scene where he expounds on the virtues of T.S. Eliot– whose hymns to despair and stasis haunt the play– while interviewing Johnna (the powerfully stoic Veronica Del Cerro) for a position as a housekeeper.
Beverly’s professorial loveliness contrasts to the behavior of wife Violet, who is so mean she could turn a junkyard dog into a toothless pup with one squinty glare. As portrayed in grand style by Miss Thorson, Violet is a pill-popping, bile-slinging viper who wears her childhood scars and brutalities like a string of pearls. She bobbles and weaves like a punch-drunk, bantam weight prizefighter, taking on all comers and reducing them to pulp.
She knows precisely where to deliver the killer blows, especially when it comes to her three daughters—the eldest Barbara (Deborah Hazlett) a snippy and deeply disappointed battleax in the same mold as her mother; dutiful, droopy middle child Ivy (a subdued Beth Hylton) and Karen (Maia DeSanti), the youngest and sunnily self-absorbed.
A second act family dinner incites an orgy of bad behavior, as the stoned Violet unleashes a torrent of “truth-telling” and then sits back while the family grapples with sexual infidelity, incest, drug addiction, alcoholism and betrayal.
August: Osage County
Closes February 17, 2013
1727 N. Charles Street
3 hours with 20 minutes with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $56 – $65
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Note: some performances have sold out
Perverse pleasures abound, as every actor crackles with honed purpose. It’s no accident that Miss Thorson and Miss Hazlett echo their body rhythms and elocution so that to see them together onstage is like looking into a funhouse mirror. Miss Hazlett’s Barbara shares her mother’s razor tongue and laser intelligence, but her rage is not as monstrously sharpened as her mother’s and she can be sloppily, endearingly human, especially in her exchanges with estranged husband Bill (Rob Leo Roy, deceptively placid), whose fights over correct word usage betray their own peculiar brand of not so high-minded rancor.
As baby Karen, Miss DeSanti beautifully embodies the giddiness of her character and also the perils of being a people-pleasing doormat all her life. An equal treat is Nancy Robinette as Mattie Fae, Violet’s live wire sister who gleefully has never had the luxury of an unexpressed thought. Her scenes with hubby Charlie (a consummately laid-back Wil Love) are priceless, the practiced sparring of a couple who long ago stopped listening and looking at one another.
The pockets of pain and cruelty seem bottomless, yet August: Osage County is never bleak. Its flame burns fierce and pure, a fire that purges everything in its wake.
August: Osage County . by Tracy Letts . Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi . Featuring Carl Schurr, Linda Thorson, Deborah Hazlett, Rob Leo Roy, Heather Peacock, Beth Hylton, Maia DeSanti, Nancy Robinette, Wil Love, Clinton Brandhagen, Veronica del Cerro, Bruce Nelson, and Ron Heneghen . Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The new Everyman Theatre is located at
315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
Directions and parking