OH, Sister Fayan and Anderson in August: Osage County.
Considering that the play begins and ends with depressing quotes by T.S. Eliot, Tracy Letts's August: Osage County is remarkably fun-filled. There is suicide, madness, and a lingering case of mouth cancer; in other words, the stuff of real life. But it's accomplished with the verve and good humor with which we hope to perform our own lives.
This 2nd Story Theatre production, directed by Ed Shea, sends a cavalcade of characters and incidents swirling about, sweeping us up in its tumult of relationships (through April 1).
The 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama requires a baker's dozen of actors, so it's fortunate that we're at 2nd Story, which gets to draw from the best talent around. Shea could even fritter away the talents of acting stalwart Tom Roberts in the role of Beverly Weston, who is only in the opening. The Eliot quoter, who published one award-winning volume of poetry 40 years earlier and nothing since, is rambling a whiskey-fortified monologue to a job applicant, Johnna (Kira Arnold).
She is applying to work as a housekeeper, cook, and caretaker to Beverly's wife, Violet (Lynne Collinson), a cancer patient always hopped up on pain pills, sometimes incoherent but mostly amusing and chatty. Beverly doesn't cut off her pills because she doesn't complain about his alcoholism. Johnna serves as quiet observer to the fraught family troubles that ensue. Since she is Cheyenne, we feel free to consider hers a wise and critical eye.
After the opening scene, we jump ahead to find far-flung relatives arriving at the Westons' Oklahoma home because Beverly has been missing for five days. We get a sometimes chilling case study of how a family trait is passed on from generation to generation. In this instance, it's meanness. Violet, mistreated as a child, is as cruel as some of her children have learned to be. Since she is high on pills most of the time, her mistreatment of others is always accomplished with hilarious panache, which can't help but entertain us, hopefully to our eventual embarrassment.
Violet's sister, Mattie Fay Aiken (Paula Faber), also has a lot of rage within her, which she mostly vents by belittling her underachieving, frequently weeping son, "Little" Charles (Nicholas Thibeault). His father, Charlie (Vince Petronio), is kindly comfort. Even more so is Ivy Weston (Emily Lewis), the only Weston daughter who has chosen to live near her parents. She and Charles, who have been secretly having an affair, plan to run off to New York City together.
Weston daughter Barbara (Joanne Fayan) is the oldest, and her marriage is falling apart. Her husband Bill (Andy Stigler), a calmly self-admitted narcissist, is in love with one of his young students. Daughter Jean (Valerie Westgate) is 14, an enthusiastic pot smoker, and frighteningly oblivious to the creepy overtures of Steve Heidebrecht (Tom O'Donnell), the middle-aged fiancé of the youngest Weston daughter, Karen (Tanya Anderson). She is oblivious to his character, blinded by her happiness in finally finding a partner.
Got all that?