Pictured: Jarrett Smith Jackson lays down the law as eldest daughter Barbara while Rick Phelps, playing Charlie Aiken, looks on in “fear” (Inside joke. Gotta see the play to understand)./
There’s nothing like spending an evening in the south—that province of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and now, Tracy Letts, the playwright behind Sierra Classic Theatre’s latest
While it wasn’t midnight in the garden of good and evil, it could have been; all the requisite perversions and dysfunctions were in full naked bloom for “August: Osage County.”
Perhaps, taking a note from today’s imperfect world, a black comedy like this can take us octaves beyond the turmoil, revisiting where it all starts—in the family. These are strange times in our country, times when black comedy shines like a sudden streetlight in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
We are raised to believe that we are always safe within the heart of our family. That is tested here, as members come back home to the family home in Oklahoma from Colorado and Florida, combust, roil in the mud of an alcoholic father and a pill-popping mother. According to director Allison McDonell Page, the parents were raised in the Great Depression in a climate of poverty and want, and they’re angry, a characteristic they pass on to their children.
Within the myriad layers and themes of adultery, incest, brutality, abuse and alcoholism, to name a few, the characters live in a constant state of fear. It is bleak as hell. And runs more than three hours. Yet through it all, there is something enduring that comes through. Family, despite the s**t they can put themselves and each other through, is even stronger at binding them together. We are more than our dysfunctions. “It’s bleak, but I hope it’s valuable,” Page said.
This play is filled to the brim with strong, boisterous women, most of them on the wane. Angry women. They have cheated, lied to, loved, betrayed. The matriarch, Violet, is the Maypole, her daughters and granddaughters the streamers that get all twisted and knotted. The men are somewhat paler beings.
The curtain rises on the Weston family patriarch, Beverly, interviewing a young Cheyenne woman for a job caring for his wife Violet, who has mouth cancer and a pill addiction. His monologue sets the tone for the entire play, and it is incisively delivered by Chuck Scatolini with the slow drunken delivery of a southern intellectual. Beverly is a lapsed poet and talks to the girl about his favorite poet, T.S. Eliot. (Eliot is invoked at the play’s end, when we hear the closing lines of his poem “The Hollow Men.”)
The play then revolves around Beverly, who has gone missing, and whose absence raises the flaws of his family to new peaks.
Jarrett Smith Jackson as the pivotal “favorite” daughter, Barbara, navigates her way through shit as thick and dark as wine grapes. Her anger combusts all over the stage; she has driven away her husband and daughter and lost her beauty.
She also gets some of the most memorable lines, such as “Eat the fish, bitch!” and “Forsook you and the horse you rode in on.”
Alice Suszynski is the matriarch Violet Weston. She bears the pain of her life as a sly martyr, as a mean, mean woman who claims to value the truth and then hurls it at her daughters. Suzynski is really brilliant portraying this tormented woman trying like hell to survive her own anger and beginnings.
As Violet’s younger sister Mattie Fay, first-time actor Blair Lee is remarkably effective. It won’t be long before she becomes a brighter star in the footlights. Barbara’s daughter Jean, played by Sabrina Clevenger, brings a bit of youthful sparkle to the stage, the least dark character of all.
Allison McDonell Page, director, began working with the cast of 13 in January. Page designed the set, magically converting the one-dimensional black box stage into a three-story house. This tight space huddled all 13 characters in fear and loathing, and threatened to break down the very walls. Page is also Karen, one of Violet’s daughters. A key to the large cast fitting on the tight stage lies in the fact that they don’t move back and forth a lot; the action comes more from their words and verbal sparring.
“August: Osage County” is Tracy Letts’ third play (after “Killer Joe” and “Bug,” all of which have been turned into movies). He won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama when it opened on Broadway in 2008.
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts will play the leads in the film adaptation of August: Osage County.
Less than an hour after the play ended (scotch in hand), I was struck anew by the work’s power. Like a French film, it stays with me, replaying scenes, revealing new insights. The play speaks to each of us, whether a member of a blood family, a family of friends, or even a family of townsfolk. A tremendous production.
This is the way the world ends/
Not with a bang but a whimper
See the show at the Edison Theatre, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4.
Jason Crockett ………………Bill Fordham
Jarrett Jackson ……….Barbara Fordham
Richard Koehler …………Sheriff Gilbeau
Jacqueline Marie ……Johnna Monevata
Allison M. Page …………….Karen Weston
Rick Phelps ………………….Charles Aiken
Jim Marcotte ………………..Little Charles
Marlene Piper ………………….Ivy Weston
Chuck Scatolini …………Beverly Weston
Craig Sterling …………Steve Hedebrecht
Alice Suszynski …………….Violet Weston
Sabrina Clevenger ……….Jean Fordham
Pricilla Toledo (understudy for Johnna)