Walking into the Milburn Stone Theater (MST) at Cecil College in North East, MD, for their production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY takes one’s breath away. The set of a farmhouse in rural Oklahoma is complicated and yet proves to be completely useful by the actors. MST has been routinely successful in creating sets that support their productions. In the case of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY they have outdone themselves. Director, S. Lee Lewis, and Scenic Designer, Bob Denton, have created an environment that contains living areas and small spaces, colors and shadows, and staircases that serve to separate this home into disparate areas where characters can hide or lurk or explode or escape.
Speaking of escape, each member of the Weston family escapes in their own unique, focused way; and author Tracey Letts brings them together again under the guise of dealing with Dad’s latest issues. It is clear from the very first scene that nobody wishes to be in this house or part of this family except for the Native American caregiver who simply “needs the work”. A fascinating character added by Letts, Johnna Monevata, played with serenity and self-assurance by Colleen Scott brings into sharp contrast the privileged yet decrepit Westons with a member of the historically brutally treated Cherokee Nation. The survivor survives; the privileged do not.
The three Weston sisters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen are a scary trio indeed. Played with brash bravura, Jessica Brockmeyer as Barbara alternately absorbs her mother’s abuse and then erupts with a need to control. When controlling Mom is not possible, Brockmeyer turns Barbara’s fury on her husband, Bill, or her angst-ridden teenage daughter, Jean. Dane Hutchinson’s performance is a gem. Not that Bill is the most likeable of men insofar as he has succumbed to a mid-life crisis and all that entails, but Hutchinson’s performance allows us to see a human being dealing with demons some of his own making and some not. Jenna Glazier gives a hormone pounding performance as Jean making all parents of pre-teens cringe at the thought of what they might be facing. At the opposite end of the emotional roller coaster, there is Ivy, portrayed by Sarah Sickles. The Weston daughter who remained at home has secrets. Secrets that are hurtful to herself and to others. Closely held secrets can sometimes lead to pale or unrealized performances. In contract Sickles’ performance is strong as it could easily have become lost in the braggadocio of her sisters. Completing this threesome of horrors is Karen, a woman who has been dreaming of escape since her childhood and will do ANYTHING to make her dreams come true including continuing an ultimately harmful relationship. Heather Ferral gives the audience a Karen who talks because so little in her life has been realized. Ferral’s performance begins with a wildly delivered monologue completely disconnected to the funereal feel of the family reunion. Ferral continues to make Karen the most distant of the sisters and the one most easily understandable when the worst happens and Karen is forced to make a decision to protect her dreams or her family.
The mother of these dysfunctional sisters is Violet, a product of a lifetime of choices both thrust upon her and choices made in the dark reaches of her own mind. GayLynn Price holds her own against the powerful performances of Brockmeyer, Sickles and Ferral. While there are times when the performance would have been strengthened by clearer psychic transitions and better display of her emotional outbursts, overall Price provides us with a mortally wounded soul striking out at those closest to her. Janise Whelan gives the audience a rousing portrayal of Mattie Fay Aiken, Violet’s younger sister, with her own secrets and her “need” to remain connected to a family who dismisses and undervalues her contributions. Phil Hansel plays Mattie Fay’s husband, Charlie, as so likeable and as such a “regular guy” that the audience will find itself trying to figure out why he is still there.
The AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY ensemble are committed to their roles and provide additional dimensions to this disintegrating family. They each receive kudos for maintaining visibility and believability on a stage overwhelmed with newly revealed long-kept secrets and the paroxysms that are the end of the Weston family.
All in all, a roller coaster ride with a cast of characters made strong by abuse and their own resolve to survive. It does not end well for this family, but that is no reason not to afford yourselves of the opportunity to become part of this tempestuous and captivating production well done by the cast and crew of MST.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Written by Tracey Letts
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
January 23 – February 1, 2015
The Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 410-287-1037