“August: Osage County” puts the fun in dysfunctional


Anna Maria Liccione

Cast members prepare for opening night

“This is one of those plays that’s about real life,” said Chris Colt, the director of “August: Osage County,” which will be performed Feb. 8-11 in the Dibden Theater for the Arts. “There’s nothing absurd about it. It’s the dysfunction, and the characters are people who are funny. But it also mirrors the dysfunction we all have around us. So we laugh at recognizing life even though there is an extreme element because of the extreme dysfunction. Thank God most peoples’ families aren’t this bad.”

This vivid portrait piece takes you deep into the life of a large, intelligent family that comes together at Beverly (Zane Wilkins) and Violet Weston’s (Claire Demarais) homestead in rural Oklahoma, when the alcoholic patriarch disappears. Forced to confront unspoken truths and astonishing secrets, this dysfunctional family must also contend with Violet, the pill-popping, disturbed matriarch suffering from mouth cancer.

This couple’s three grown daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen, are played by Alannah Halliday, Danielle Godjikian and Liz Thompson. Barbara is estranged from her husband, Bill Fordham (Ethan McGovern), father of their pot- and cigarette-smoking vegetarian daughter, Jean. The role of Jean will be split by Taylor Brown and Heather Vize-Willey. Thomas Bartlau has the role of Karen’s fiance, Steve Heidebrech.

Another couple, Mattie Fae (Lynne Dumais) and Charlie Aiken (Jonathan Howard) have a son, “Little Charles” Aiken (Dan Schurman). Johnna Monevata (Madeleine Gibbons) is the Native-American housekeeper hired just before Beverly’s disappearance. Although she is one of the quieter roles, Johnna is a complex and level-headed character. The cast is rounded out by Dakotah Senesac in the role of Sherriff Deon Gilbeau.

“August: Osage County” is Colt’s first production on the Dibden stage. Careful thought went into choosing this tragicomedy.

“This is one of America’s newest best-received and celebrated plays,” said Colt. “It’s got a lot of great women’s parts and we’ve got a lot of great women performers here at Johnson.”

The play, written by Tracy Letts, an actor/playwright hailing from the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, Ill., won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play and the 2008 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play. This company also boasts such actors as Gary Sinise (a founding member of the company), Joan Allen, Gary Cole, William Petersen, Martha Plimpton, John Malkovich and Laurie Metcalf as ensemble members.

“You can sense that the person who wrote this play really understands actors, because it’s so much fun to act it,” Colt said. “It has great roles and juicy dialogue. ‘August: Osage County’ is a play that is about real life, but the characters are people who are funny. The actors that are in the play have done really, really great work so far in the rehearsal process. The three biggest parts are seniors, Claire, Lynne and Maddy. They’ve really anchored the cast in major, challenging roles. It’s pretty exciting I think.”

“I wanted to do August Osage County right when I started to read it with some of the other auditioners,” said Howard. “It was such a treat with all of the laughter, when you love dark humor like me. This show pulls in all aspects of family, from compassion and love to the fighting and struggles we all have behind the walls of our homes. With a committed cast such as this, it is never a dull moment during the show or in rehearsal.”

Colt recently acted in, directed and adapted “The Blues Brothers” for the Barre Opera House. He has been acting and writing plays for over 35 years. He has written both musicals and dramatic pieces, and considers himself a playwright/director.

“‘August: Osage County’ is in that same category of plays that are being produced all over the country,” said Colt. “It’s as good a piece of theater [as you can get]. Last year’s spring musical, ‘Bat Boy,’ was another example of American theater at its highest being produced here at Johnson State College.”

“August: Osage County” is performed in Dibden Feb. 8 at 2 p.m., and Feb. 9, 10 and 11 at 7 p.m.