As cold as this winter has been, it’s refreshing to get a reminder that warmer times exist. And, in some cases, the heat is not only the temperature; it’s also in heated exchanges. At Steel River Playhouse in Pottstown, the heat is turned way up with the production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY.
A previous review gave an overview of the plotline of this property (this is a shameless plug to go back into the archives and read my other reviews!) Quickly, this is show is a look into the lives of the Weston family: Husband Beverly (Larry Gessler), a hard-drinking poet/educator; his wife Violet (Barbara Hannevig), suffering from mouth cancer, addicted to pills, and totally non-filtered in her speech. Beverly’s disappearance brings the children home…Barbara, the oldest (Shawnwwn Rowe) with husband Bill (Paul Dake) and daughter Jean (Natalie Young); the middle child Ivy (Margo O’Moore), currently spouseless; and the youngest, Karen (Andrea Frassoni) with her fiancé Steve (Mark Ayers.) Also coming to Violet’s side are Violet’s sister Mattie Fay Aiken ( Donna Dougherty), her husband Charlie (John Reardon), and their son Little Charles (Gregory D. Kasander.) Add in the newly-hired housekeeper Johnna (Rachel Diamond) and Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Paul Perrymore), stir briskly over high heat and watch for the explosions.
Director Harland Meltzer assembled a fine cast…the performances were intense and strong. Meltzer chose to accent the dark side of this performance, and as such the actors portrayed each of the characters with a lot of anger, pent-up bitterness toward the past, and lots of skeletons in the closets. Hannevig and Rowe were excellent foils for each other, sniping, attacking, looking for those moments to “win”…yet, amazingly, with a very subtle undertone of familial devotion. Dake gave a very strong performance as the supportive husband, dealing with a decaying marriage and rebellious daughter while trying to keep things from falling apart (at least at Violet’s home.) Ayers and Young also gave a strong performance in smaller roles, including a particularly creepy exchange that was handled very well by the director and actors.
The set was large and functional, lighting effective. It may be a shortcoming of the facility, but I would have liked to have the set a little closer to the audience…some of the scenes were set so far back that it lost some of the connection with the audience. Also, the dark tone of the play, while effective, might have benefited with a little lighter hand. Some of the humor in the play was lost, and with a play that runs over 3 hours, the audience needs a bit of a break from all of the shouting.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY won many well-deserved awards, both as a piece of writing and as a play. It’s very well-crafted, the characters very rich and three-dimensional, and the story is compelling. Steel River Playhouse has done a fine job with this modern classic.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Comedy-Drama by Tracy Letts
Directed by Harland Meltzer
March 7 – 23, 2014
Steel River Playhouse
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464