AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Tracey Letts
Produced by Michael Trites and Directed by Margo Rodgers
November 17-19, 24–26, 2016.
When I heard August: Osage County was going to be performed in Port Perry and Whitby within the span of a month this autumn, I wondered what was it that makes actors want to perform this play with all of its raging and raw emotions in front of an audience who might be unprepared for this onslaught? It came clear to me when I saw the play a second time.
Producer Mike Trites notes that August is the perfect storm of creativity that Mr. Letts has created for crew, actors and for audience. The dialogue (and yes even the deluge of profanity effused throughout the plot) is crisp, clean, lean and mean. WCT and the Borelians have clearly done their homework in rehearsal so that, as Violet Weston aptly points out, the audience can ‘fasten [its] seat belts because it’s going to be a bumpy night’.
Margo Rodgers states in her Director Notes that she loves this play, and it was certainly obvious that her passion for this 3 hour and 15 minute production drove this opening night performance forward with monumental intensity. Erastus Burley’s three level set design is exquisitely claustrophobic right down to papers askew on patriarch Beverley Weston’s (an impressive performance by Tim Westhead) desk. To paraphrase awkwardly from Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, attention has most certainly been paid to minute detailed elements of decoration that heighten the feeling of suffocation in the Weston home. Bravo to the team of builders, decorators and painters who, I’m sure, have spent countless hours just on the look of the interior of the house.
Countless hours of work are also spent in makeup, hair and costume designs from many individuals behind the scenes, and these accoutrements were appropriate and fitting for each of the thirteen cast members. Mattie Fae Aiken’s clothing and wig is especially a comic throwback to the 60s look and style, and Nancy Gleed wears this fashion with great aplomb. Sound is another key element in this production. Boyd Tattrie has composed and recorded some skillful guitar accompaniment while Margo Rodgers has selected key off stage and realistic sound effects to bring us into the immediacy of the action on stage.
A show of this caliber also requires an understanding of how lighting heightens the array of reactions the audience feels in this production. Brandon Rideout has created some impressive visual effects – one occurs in the moment where the pill popping Violet believes her husband, Beverley, has returned after he mysteriously vanishes. The other haunting image occurs at the end of the play as the Cheyenne housekeeper, Johanna Monevata, calmly and compassionately holds the terminally ill Violet who deteriorates before our eyes.
This WCT company of solid actors, under the gentle yet firm guidance of Mrs. Rodgers, delivers powerhouse performances. There are a number of poignant, sad and comic moments, but what struck me the second time in seeing this story is the inherent despondency and brokenness found in each of Mr. Letts’ characters that can never be repaired, and which this company has captured so artistically. The Weston daughters (Raissa Chernushenko, Melissa Gibson and Lisa Feirreira) are bitchy, spiteful and conceited toward each other and to the delusional, spineless and lily livered men in their lives (Desmond Harty, Craig Martin, Peter Mazzucco and Greg White). These seven actors adeptly move us from bitterness to disgust, anger to pathos in only a matter of minutes as secrets upon secrets are reared.
There are two highly uncomfortable moments in the play involving Barbara and Bill Fordham’s precocious and ill-tempered daughter, Jean (an electric performance by Caroline Rodway) and the creepy Steve Heidebrecht (so convincingly played by Greg White that you want to rush up and pull Caroline out of these two situations). Rodway and White never cross the line, but we are glued to the action in front of us because we want to see how it’s going to turn out.
During one moment, I applauded loudly as I did in Port Perry when Shael Risman, as obsequious Charlie Aiken, stands up to his domineering wife and Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (a welcome return by Nancy Gleed to WCT) whose ballooned ego is burst until her secret is revealed. As the Cheyenne housekeeper, Johanna Monevato, Nicole Vezeau’s performance strength lies in those quiet moments where she listens intently to another actor or watches fixedly as the action unfolds around her before she responds.
Finally, Barbara Clifford as the terminally ill, drug infused and foul-mouthed matriarch Violet Weston is compelling and dynamic. Our hearts break with emotion especially when we see those times where Violet is scared at what lies ahead in the future. For me, Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” will certainly conjure the concluding moment of both stagings of this play in my mind.
Thank you to those individuals from WCT and the Borelians, and to others who encouraged me to complete these two commentaries on Tracey Letts’ August: Osage County. This writing exercise has allowed me to appreciate even more the work of the Borelians and WCT, their directors, their crew and cast have undertaken in peeling back the layers of intent and meaning behind this gripping script. I invite you to read the Borelians commentary of August linked here.
August: Osage County continues at the Whitby Centennial Building November 17-19 and November 24-26, 2016. Curtain is 8 pm. There is one matinee performance at 2 pm on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Tickets may be purchased at the door or on line. For further information, please visit the website or call 905-668-8111.