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AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY presented by The Clifton Players & Untethered Theatre through March 14. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance. GYTN = Get You Tickets Now.
I purposely avoid watching motion picture versions of plays before I have a chance to see them on the stage. This production was my first opportunity to see AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Aside from the show’s description, I went into Thursday’s performance with no foreknowledge of the play. And I’m really happy about that fact.
It’s perfectly understandable why this play by Tracy Letts won so many award, including the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play. The script is excellent.
At its core, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is about the destruction of a family and the audience is front and center to witness it. One event starts the dominoes tumbling, and it’s one bombshell revelation after another. Just when you think you’ve heard or seen the worse the show has to offer, there is another explosive scene. The drama also has some great comic moments that come about organically.
For me, the show has a bit of a reality TV feel to it. But unlike a normal guilty-pleasure, there is no screen to serve as a buffer. There is an intimacy to what is happening. And you are so close to it, that at times, there is this uncomfortable sense of being an intruder. But you still can’t turn away.
The three-act play has a run-time of 3 hours and 15 minutes with two fifteen-minute intermissions. It doesn’t feel like it. Not once was I compelled to look at my watch, because there is so much to take in from the performances. The ensemble, across the board, does outstanding work. This is a challenging and complex play and I feel that the actors treated it as such and met the challenge. For many of them, the characters are so different from the work that I have seen them do in the past, that it shines as their best.
Each character, and their relationships to each other, are clearly defined and believable. Beyond that, each character carries a burden of some kind that is a heavy influence on their traits and motivations. I found myself connecting emotionally to every one of them. The energy of it is palpable.
I really enjoyed the spiritual serenity Leah Strasser brought to the role of Johanna. The vulnerability of Carter Bratton’s Little Charles. The empathy I had for Kevin Crowley’s Bill. The disdain I had for the meanness of Christine Dye’s Mattie Fae. The sympathy for poor Ivy played by MaryKate Moran. Nathan Neorr’s “stranger danger” vibe. And my love/hate relationship with Carol Brammer’s Barbara where I’m calling her a bitch in my mind one moment, and feeling sorry for her in the next. The tone of Buz Davis’ opening scene as Beverly is spot on and I totally understood what his conversation with Johnna really was.
There are many powerful moments in the play. Bob Allen and Christine Dye’s final scene together. Mindy Heithaus and Carol Brammer’s first scene together and their final confrontation. Brammer and Kevin Crowley’s uncomfortable entrance and their final scene. The awkwardness of the conversation between Brammer and Reggie Willis as Sherriff Gilbeau. The encounter between Nathan Neorr and Sarah White is handled very well. White is totally convincing as a 15 year-old girl and I’m really glad she decided to commute from NYC for the role. Dale Hodges is amazing as trainwreck Violet and the dinner scene of her versus the entire family is pitch perfect. I also liked how the scene with the three sisters showed how the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.
Another factor in the success of the show is Buz Davis’ direction. The scene work is amazing. Davis is also responsible for the set design, which affords six playing areas in the small space. Everyone who worked on this show should be proud of what they have achieved.
This production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is one of those magical theatrical experiences that I will carry forever. It is superbly acted and emotionally engaging. I hope you get a chance to experience it for yourself. It is a lengthy run, but the house size is small, so buy your tickets early and in advance.
My rating: 5 out of 5
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