The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts is a play unlike any other. The story unfolds, or should we say erupts, over a few weeks in the rural Oklahoma home of Beverly and Violet Weston. It opens with Beverly, a crusty but kindly old drunk played by the inimitable Russ Holm, hiring Johnna, a young Cherokee woman (Mackenzie Platt), as a housekeeper. “My wife takes pills and I drink,” he tells her. Not long after, Beverly disappears and the family — their three daughters and their husbands accompanied by children and boyfriends plus Violet’s sister and her family — gathers. Other than some families in the Roman Empire and, perhaps, some dreamed up by Southern Gothic writers, this family is right up there with the most dysfunctional in theater.
Violet has mouth cancer and is addicted to opioids, daughter Barbara hasn’t spoken to the family in years, daughter Ivy is secretly engaged and there’s something not right about daughter Karen’s fiancé. Even the sheriff who comes in the middle of the night has a romantic history with one of the daughters. To say anything more about the tangled relationships would be a spoiler.
Herding this 13-person cast, many of whom interact on stage simultaneously, must’ve been a herculean task for director Aaron Lamb and stage manager Gina Salerno. But herd they did, and masterfully so. Only when it serves the dramatic and comedic purposes of the script does this menagerie of misfits devolve into utter chaos — as it does several times. There are arguments, recriminations, tears and laughter. There are moments of outlandish humor and scenes of angry clashes. Sordid family secrets are revealed.
A more talented ensemble cast would be hard to imagine. The actors’ timing and admirable skills are on display throughout. The lead actor, if an ensemble such as this can be said to have a lead, is Ellen McLain as Violet. McLain has starred on Broadway with Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and as Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, and is known as the computer game character GLaDOS in the Portal series. Angela DiMarco, who plays daughter Karen, performs at Seattle Rep, boasts more than 50 film credits and stars in the television series The Scottish Play. Also featured are Harlequin regulars Jenny Baughn Hall as Ivy Weston, Ann Flannigan as Barbara Fordham, Jason Haws as Barbara’s husband Bill, and Bill Johns as Violet’s brother-in-law Charlie. Doug Fahl plays Steve, John Forbes is Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Dana Goodknight is granddaughter Jean Fordham, Janette Oswald is Mattie Fae Aiken and Brian Pucheu is “Little” Charles Aiken.
Harlequin is known for its gorgeous sets, which often represent interiors with staircases and several doors and windows. Scenic designer Jeannie Beirne has truly outdone herself with a three-story home with multiple staircases and cutaway walls.
August: Osage County is life in the raw, with comedy and drama and jaw-dropping performances by the entire cast. It runs three hours with two intermissions.
(This review appears courtesy of The Weekly Volcano.)
What: August: Osage County
Where: Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays;
2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 16
How much: $20-$34
Get tickets: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions