The script of August: Osage County is a force to be reckoned with. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened at Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007, and much of the cast transferred with the show to Broadway, where it won five Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Written by Tracy Letts, it follows the dynamics of the Weston family as they deal with a crisis. Over the course of three acts, as sisters, uncles, and cousins pour in from all over the United States, we start to see the family unravel. We learn about their relationships and their dysfunction fueled by addiction of one form or another.
The production at Bay City Players is directed by Judy Harper who has an impressive list of credits under her belt as both an actress and as a director. Steering this production is no small task, and Harper had moments of success but also left me with some questions about the decisions that were made.
The cast of the show must gel like family, which presents a casting challenge. Harper cast many talented actors, but seemingly in the wrong roles. Some actors were several years away from the age of their characters (both older and younger), which is common in community theatre, but does not work for this particular script where the varying maturity of the characters and their relationships to one another are so important.
The cast was led by Debbie Lake as Violet, the matriarch of the Weston family. Lake gave a powerful performance, and showed us great range as she arrived in every scene in various levels of stupor. Her command of the stage is what this role demands, and it was fascinating to watch her Violet slowly fall apart.
Other stand out performances came from Kurt Miller as Charlie, Andy Hanson as Bill, Sarah Greene as Barbara, and True Rogers as Sheriff Deon. Each actor had a keen understanding of their character and what they brought to the table. Miller’s argument with his wife (played by the hilarious and heartbreaking Jeanne Gilbert) was one of the best moments in the play.
I wish more attention had been paid to the pacing and the beats of the show. Arguments (and there are many) seemed to hit a fever pitch before they were ready, and there wasn’t much room left for quiet moments or different tactics from the actors. Additionally, the physical fights needed the attention of a stage combat choreographer as they were frequently clunky and slightly out of control.
Technically speaking, the set (designed by Mike Wisniewski) was more on the minimal side with walls being suggested rather than fully constructed. This worked well for most of the play, but did become tricky for blocking when family secrets started to unfold. A few more barriers between acting spaces may have solved this problem.
David Newsham used practical lighting to great effect. There were times when he could have relied more heavily on the lamps to provide the only source of lighting in the room, rather than filling the stage with front light.
Sound by Tim Barnes and Tyler Leonard was off balance (though I sat far house right) and the choice to use music cinematically at poignant moments was intrusive rather than adding to the emotion of the story. Using music as underscoring is much trickier than it seems, and this production may have benefitted from cutting it altogether.
Costumes by Yolandie Hamilton and Katy Hamilton were suitable for the time period and the characters, for the most part, though I questioned if characters suffering the heat of August in Oklahoma would wear layers and long sleeves.
Overall, if you enjoy twisted family drama, this story is worth seeing, and you will be left with your mouth agape time and time again as you watch the Weston family implode. Performances of August: Osage County continue February 2nd and 3rd, and February 8th-10th, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 PM and Sunday shows at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available online or from the box office Monday-Friday, 9am-1pm and during the run of the show: either in person or by phone at 989-893-5555.