AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
BORELIANS COMMUNITY THEATRE
Produced by Kyle Brough and Directed by Helen Coughlin
I have always respected the work of The Borelians of Port Perry and the Whitby Courthouse Theatre, and I was uncertain whether or not I should complete commentaries on both performances of Tracey Letts’ AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY since I consider many of the actors and crew in both productions friends and colleagues.
I re-considered after encouragement from others to look upon this opportunity as a personal growth in a writing exercise. I always invite discussion about the local arts scene. As local actors, artists, musicians and ‘techies’, we have to promote our Arts culture and keep it alive ourselves. Long gone are those days where a reporter from any local press used to arrive opening night because it ain’t gonna happen anymore. With this focus, I set out to see the Borelians’ astonishing production of this Pulitzer Prize winning play. The Whitby Courthouse Theatre’s production is slated to open in November.
It’s humid and August hot in Osage County, Oklahoma. When the family patriarch (a knockout delivery first scene by Howard Linscott) vanishes, the Weston family returns home to care for their foul-mouthed, drug-addicted matriarch, Violet (valiantly played by Ruth Smith) who is battling mouth cancer. Add to this mixture the backstabbing, the secrets and lies of the Weston offspring and their significant others. Envelope this maelstrom in the abstract, black curtained windows of a multi level set design complete with oppressive, sticky heat of the non air-conditioned house, and we can’t help but wonder when this powder keg will explode. At times, these characters are hateful, hurtful, and mean and we don’t like them. And yet, I wanted to see what was going to happen to each of them next.
Clearly, this play is not an easy one to stage for its multitudinous layers of plot intricacies and adult emotional depth; nevertheless, in her Program Notes, Director Helen Coughlin recognizes this award winning play was a tremendous undertaking. Her hunches, along with those of Producer Kyle Brough, have paid off. This production has enormous dedication and professional excellence. Its worth attending.
Nothing is held back in this 2 hour and 45 minute roller coaster upheaval of a journey to tell the truth, and this cast has been well rehearsed to make us feel uncomfortable thanks to Mrs. Coughlin’s intuitive and heightened direction. Annette Stokes, Lanie Anderson and Carolyn Goff, as the Weston sisters, have the skilled and honed acting chops to create in your face bitchy and spiteful siblings who, at times, show us they are hurting individuals. The sisters’ varied men in their lives (admirable performances by Michael Serres, and Colin Murphy) reveal further secrets that make us feel uncomfortable, especially in light of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s misogynistic views about women. Thrown into this mixture are Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (an impressive performance by Marlo Alcock) and her doormat husband, Charlie Aiken (solid performance by Lyle Corrigan who garnered applause in the second act when he stands up to his wife). As Sheriff Deon Gilbreau, Lorenz Workmeister offers some strength of character to Violet’s daughter, Barbara, especially in the second act when her world begins to unravel further. Nevertheless, we see a side to the sheriff that continues to add tension to the Weston family.
We can’t forget the younger members who are thrown into this bubbling cauldron of hostility. Justine Dickie, as Barbara and Bill Fordham’s daughter, Jean, tackles two of the most uncomfortable scenes in the play with heightened awareness and centered vulnerability. The young Cheyenne housekeeper Johnna Monevata, (a promising performance by Isabelle Blanusa) becomes the listener we all need in our lives when we experience emotional turmoil. As Little Charles Aiken, Chris Gaudet’s perceptive performance drew gasps from the audience when his ‘true’ secret is revealed.
Much of the dialogue is razor-sharped and biting with daggers of expletives flying in every direction, and this cast handles the continuity expertly. At times, you will find yourself laughing out loud at how bizarre the events begin to unfold. The dinner scene that opens Act 2 was thrilling to watch as the cast has captured believably large family gathered dinners where we hear the various overheard snippets of conversation simultaneously, and yet we can’t remember any of these conversations since so much was said. There are moments of tenderness in this production from all performers; however it is those times, especially between the terminally ill and scared Violet and her daughters, where our hearts ache for these misfits who are beyond dysfunctional.
In her Program Notes, Helen Coughlin writes that tackling a play of this grandeur pushes the envelope in many directions as a challenge is set for every actor, lighting, sound, costume, set designers and decorators and for the producer and director. The Borelians continue to set the bar high and push the envelope as this is what live theatre challenges all of us to do – to think, to react, to feel, to live and to breathe another life if only for a few hours.
Make sure you get to see this production of August: Osage County in Port Perry. I also ask that you go see Whitby Courthouse Theatre’s production in November. And then, let’s talk. . . . Ok, WCT, you’re up next.
The Borelians’ production of August: Osage County runs Thursday October 20 – Saturday October 22 at 8:00 pm. There is a matinee October 22 at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased at the box office at the Port Perry Town Hall, 45 Queen Street East or order online at www.borelians.ca. For further information visit the website or call 905-985-8181.