Osage County, Oklahoma is a hot, landlocked span of plains on the border of Kansas. "Who's the asshole who saw this big, flat nothing and decided to plant his flag here?" wonders middle-aged Barbara as she unwillingly treads the threshold of her childhood home. It's before this stifling and unforgiving Midwestern landscape that Tracy Letts, himself a child of Oklahoma, stages his modern American classic, the darkly comedic drama August: Osage County. The story of an extended family's savage self-destruction, this 2008 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama is a profane and exceptionally funny foray into Middle American generational pathos. Director Brian P. Allen opens Good Theater's season with an impeccably cast and monumentally acted production.

PAINFUL HERITAGE Barbara (Kathleen Kimball, standing), follows in the footsteps of her mother, Vi (Lisa Stathoplos).
When patriarch Beverly Weston (Chris Horton), a one-time famous poet and lifelong "professional alcoholic," goes missing, three generations of Westons reunite rancorously under the same roof to tend his wife Vi (Lisa Stathoplos), the family's acid-tongued, pill-addicted matriarch. There in the three stories of the family home, which Vi has sealed against the daylight (and which set designer Stephen Underwood renders evocatively in disembodied windows and walls, à la Our Town), for more than three hours of running time almost no relationship escapes the fray: In strife between sisters, between mothers and daughters, and between wives and husbands, the Westons variously eviscerate each other, their own myths, and the American promise of progress.

Allen's excellent actors have been preparing for the show together since August, and the long rehearsal period shows in the cast's remarkable cohesion, as well as in the marvelously rich nuances at play in the Weston family's nexus of fraught and secret-ridden relationships. Vi's sister Mattie Fay (Cynthia Barnett) bickers with her husband Charlie (Charles Michael Howard) with the resignation and elisions of long conjugal cross-purposes, and puts down their self-effacing, unemployed son Charlie (Brent Askari) as if in long practice. In contrast, Vi's eldest daughter Barbara (Kathleen Kimball) upbraids both her estranged husband Bill (Mark Rubin) and their teenage daughter Jean (Emma Banks) with the viciousness of the newly wounded. But the uncontested mistress of verbal warfare is Vi, for whose sly and brilliant cruelties everyone else is constantly on the alert.

Brought together, Vi's three beautifully drawn daughters, Barbara, Ivy (Amy Roche) and Karen (Janice Gardner) are at once fruit from the same tree of wit and insecurities, and at the same time strikingly distinct from one another: Watch Karen's loose-bodied narcissism in her cleavage-revealing funeral dress, gesturing obliviously with dinner-table napkins, in contrast to Barbara, tight-mouthed and high-bodiced, as she goes around furiously re-folding them. Watch all three of them alone together passing a bottle of Jack, wavering between resentment and intimacy, and finally sharing it for a moment in hilarity over how best to refer to their mother's "cooch" (in which she'd once stashed bottle of pills).

An array of these relationships abrades bracingly throughout the show, but the crowning cataclysm is the funeral dinner of the second act, in which 10 adults are captive, including Karen's schmucky fiancé Steve (Paul Drinan), and even the Native-American housekeeper (Katherine Davis) is present at the "children's table" with Jean. This masterfully directed scene builds in a marvel of turbulent — and often hilarious — inflections, gestures and glances, and when the shit finally hits the fan, both the sting and the ache of the violence are exquisite.

1  |  2  |   next >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   WHEREFORE ART THOU?  |  August 14, 2014
    Monmouth's R&J and the quest for passion
  •   THE DREAM LIVES ON  |  July 31, 2014
    The Deertrees experience is not just theater shows, and not just its program of concerts. Deertrees is also a certain ethos of small-town summertime in Maine.
  •   STEEL POPPIES  |  July 18, 2014
    Linda Sturdivant directs a spirited and attractively appointed production of the musical The Full Monty , the Americanized version of the 1997 British film, at the historic City Theater, in Biddeford.
  •   THE MOST BRUTAL SPORT  |  July 11, 2014
    Ballet is not for pussies.
  •   DISTILLED PORTRAIT  |  July 10, 2014
    The greatest love of the show’s title—for both Chamberlain and its audience—remains the war itself.

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING