“August: Osage County” fabulous tragicomedy

Mariah Howland

Lynne Dumais and John Howard in August: Osage County

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“Life is very long,” says Beverly Weston, the alcoholic patriarch of the Weston family. This quote from “The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, opened the show, and the poem is a continual theme throughout the play.

Zane Watkins in his first performance on the Dibden Stage, delivers this opening scene fraught with intense foreshadowing, continually spouting T.S. Eliot quotes to the newly hired Native American housekeeper and caregiver Johnna (Madeleine Gibbons).

Stumbling and slurring a bit, he repeats the mantra, “ My wife takes pills, and I drink. That’s the bargain we’ve struck.” during this job interview/hiring scene.
Under the fabulous direction of Christopher Colt, “August: Osage County” wrapped up a four-performance stint on Saturday, Feb. 11. This deftly cast tragicomedy was well received by enthusiastic audiences all three nights.

Set in Pawhuska, Okla., near Tulsa, “August” is a play that makes you uncomfortable and comfortable all at the same time. This raucous comedy is so filled with tragedy that even as one laughs they are shedding tears inside.

The dysfunctional Weston family operates on a level that shouldn’t be wished on an enemy, but there is an undercurrent of love throughout the play. This 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play also won the Tony Award for best play the same year.

The hard work on the part of the cast and technical crew really paid off in this top-quality production.

Senior Claire Demarais bares her soul to the audience as the sharp-tongued matriarch, Violet Weston. Her moving performance as a pill-popping, caustic woman who was diagnosed with mouth cancer leaves one aching for more. Her three daughters arrive home after their father has been missing for days.

Often outrageous, and sometimes poignant, the three daughters, Barbara Fordham (Allanah Halliday), Ivy Weston (Danielle Godjikian) and KarenWeston (Liz Thompson) are not close, they barely know anything about each others’ lives, and it’s been years since they’ve seen each other.

Barbara Fordham is wound tight and on the verge of divorce. Her daughter, Jean (dually cast, Taylor Brown and Heather Vize-Willey) is a precocious pot-smoking girl, obviously mature for her 14 years.

Halliday nails this character, and as she screams, “I’m running things now!” to end the second act, it leaves us aching for more.

Another great line she delivers: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” Ain’t that just the truth sometimes?

Barbara’s philandering husband, Bill, was played by Ethan McGovern, who ends up leaving with his sullen daughter and heading back to Boulder, leaving his wife to deal with her mother alone.

Ivy Weston is a mousy, cynical woman in her forties and the only daughter to remain close to the family home in Oklahoma.

She has begrudgingly cared for her parents since her sisters have moved on; Karen to Florida and Barbara to Boulder, Colo.

Karen’s homecoming includes lecherous Steve Heidebrecht (Thomas Bartlau), who continually makes passes at the young Fordham girl.

Enticing her with marijuana, he gets her alone late at night and begins to fondle her.

In one of the rare moments where she speaks, the staid housekeeper just says “He was messing with Jean.”

This scene is one made of nightmares, older male “perv” pushing himself upon a young teenager who’s not quite sure what to do.

The great roles available in this play written by an actor and for actors abound.

Lynne Dumais shines as Mattie Fae Aiken, Violet’s sister, who along with her husband, Charlie (Jon Howard), and their son “Little Charlie” Aiken (Dan Schurman), add a key dynamic into this dysfunctional family’s utter destruction and pain.

Dumais and Howard are believable, funny, and real in their portrayal of the parents of their “deadbeat” son, Little Charlie, deftly handled by Schurman.

Dakotah Senesac, a newcomer to JSC’s stage, played the sheriff, Deon Gilbeau who after not seeing his former prom date, Barbara Weston in many years, arrives at the house to inform her of her father’s untimely demise.

The production team for “August: Osage County” includes Bridget Conway, in her debut as stage manager. Conway did a great job, along with assistant Angie Marie Hunt, as one can tell from the smooth running of the production.

The lighting design by Michael Brokowski with Taryn Glasser assisting was impeccable. Seemingly without effort, the lights highlighted each area of the stage as action was taking place.

Costume design by Holly McDonald with her apprentice, Ethan McGovern ranged from bathrobe chic to funeral black to Jean’s playful outfits. Each character’s costume was well-appointed, fitting each character’s personality perfectly.

The music and sound, supervised by Bonnie Cleverly, fit well into each scene.

Props Master Kate-Lynn Pal kept engaged with plates of catfish, books and other props. Makeup was also well done by Erin Keyes.

The three-floor set as a cutaway of the Weston’s house was quite elaborate, with scenes taking place on all three floors.

The house, although shabby, was large enough to include an attic bedroom for Johnna, two other bedrooms up stairs, a first-floor dining room with a full size table and sideboard and a door to the kitchen, a living room complete with couch, piano and television, and Beverly’s study.

There was also another bedroom off the front hall. This elaborate set was built by Nick Pepe, Ethan McGovern, Chris Colt, Jan Herder, Colleen Twomey and the rest of the Dibden Crew.

The play ended with another quote from Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” “This is the way the world ends,” Gibbons recited. “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

A mix of Dibden veterans and first-timers, “August: Osage County” was well worth every moment spent in the theater. Bravo!

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