Set in rural Oklahoma during the hottest month of the year in 2007, August: Osage County promises surprises, and it delivers.
The brutal heat pales in comparison to the brewing anger and hate that may burst at any moment—and when it does, hold on to your seat.
In the wrong hands, the shocking play could come off like a soap opera. But rather than histrionics, this Michael Disher-directed production is tempered with realism and offers genuine reactions to life-shattering admissions.
For audience members who have already had the twists spoiled by last year’s film—which was also scribed by playwright Tracy Letts—the play gives an untruncated version of the August: Osage County story and a greater understanding of the characters.
Though the drama is high, the dark comedy is the greatest takeaway from this play. The dysfunctional Weston family home exudes acerbic wit.
The play’s cutting humor takes off right at the outset, as once-acclaimed poet Beverly Weston (Philip Reichert) makes drunken remarks while interviewing a woman (Josephine Wallace) for an in-house position cooking and cleaning plus driving his wife, cancer patient Violet (Linda McKnight), to her appointments.
Reichert’s brilliant and brief performance during the prologue leaves the audience wanting more of Beverly’s wit, but it can’t be so. It is Beverly’s absence that sets off the events of the rest of the play.
By the next scene, it is weeks later and Beverly has been missing for days. Two of the three Weston daughters arrive to comfort their mother and brace for the worst.
Bonnie Grice is known on the East End as a WPPB public radio personality with enthusiasm and a friendly demeanor. But as the eldest daughter, Barbara, Grice slips into the skin of a miserable woman full of resentment. Barbara is the least oblivious of her sisters when it comes to understanding the events and people around her, but she somehow fails to see herself the way everybody else does. Grice runs the gamut of negative emotions, from outraged to heartbroken.
As Barbara’s daughter, 17-year-old actress and Pierson High School senior Emily Selyukova is a standout. She displays the rebelliousness as well as the vulnerability of a teen confronted with adult problems and caught between two separated parents.
Though the play’s lone teen has it bad, it is perhaps middle Weston daughter Ivy (Samantha Honig) who elicits the most sympathy out of all the messed-up characters. Ivy does nothing to hurt anyone else, but as a result is the biggest doormat among the family. When Ivy is hit with crushing revelations, Honig’s response is so believable it is as if the actress too—like the audience—is hearing it for the first time.
At the center of so much pain in the Weston family is Violet, who McKnight will have audiences really hating. Violet confuses mean-spiritedness and belittling with honesty. McKnight succeeds in this challenging role that has her slurring words at times due to her cancer of the mouth, and rattling off demeaning diatribes at other times—due to a mouth cancer in the metaphorical sense. McKnight’s Violet is frail but powerful, with influence over her family that spans more than a generation.
The attractive and expertly crafted set conveys a three-story home, which had to be whittled down to fit on the modest-sized Southampton Cultural Center stage. The pleasant and welcoming look of the house—with the exception of blacked out windows—belies the dread the Weston family feels when walking through the door.
August: Osage County runs through April 6, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Admission is $22, or $12 for students under 21 with ID. Group rates are available. Call 631-287-4377 or visit scc-arts.org.