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.

theater_august_main
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
ARTICLES BY MEGAN GRUMBLING
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU FABRIC  |  October 01, 2014
    One of the risks of being raised on PBS children’s programming, apparently, is the realization that one is not as special or as destined for greatness, in the grown-up world, as Big Bird seemed to let on.
  •   IT'S GOOD TO BE WITCH  |  September 19, 2014
    Trapped, suppressed, and unsatisfied with the small-mindedness of their small New England town, what are three divorcées of scandalous creative powers to do?
  •   PREPARE FOR THE FALL  |  September 18, 2014
    The season of theater at USM, Good Theater, Mad Horse, Portland Stage Company, and many more.
  •   TAKING CENTER STAGE  |  September 03, 2014
    “I’ve always loved hidden treasures,” says Michael Levine, founding artistic director of Acorn Productions, as he climbs the stairs to the third-floor ballroom of Mechanics Hall, a gem of a historic space concealed in plain sight right on Congress Street.
  •   BARN FULL OF WONDER  |  August 31, 2014
    Although summer is winding down, there’s still time for this summery, feel-good theatrical throwback to simpler times.

 See all articles by: MEGAN GRUMBLING