Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to provide the following review of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by the Windsor Jesters
Through June 18th
My husband and co-reviewer and I had the wonderful opportunity to see the Windsor Jesters for the first time in their recent production of the biting, raw Pulitzer Prize-winning dramedy August: Osage County, written by Tracy Letts and ably directed by jack-of-all-trades theater man Chris Bushey. The Windsor Jesters are a non-profit community theatre group which began in 1951 and who welcome both “gypsy” and “homebody” performers to their inner sanctum. We have had the pleasure of seeing two of the talented August troupe (Virginia Wolf and Mark Proulx) perform elsewhere and it is clearly evident that the Jesters strive to pull in the finest talent for their productions.
In that vein, the Windsor Jesters exemplify the best of what community theatre has to offer: that which contributes to a community’s “social” or “cultural capital” for the common good, as it develops the skills, spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those involved, whether as producers or audience members. This dynamic cast of 13 under Bushey’s direction, took on a challenging work and created lively, three-dimensional characters who you alternately love and hate – or somewhere in between – as they navigate the landmines of family; and as if that’s not enough, adding to it, addiction, lust, secrets, deceit, and psychological and emotional turmoil.
The highly dysfunctional Weston family is facing what may be their most cataclysmic event yet – coping with the disappearance and later confirmed death (possibly suicide) of the family patriarch, Beverly. A self-professed alcoholic and former poet who has endured the abuses of his ranting, drug-addicted, spitefully cruel wife for decades, Beverly’s whereabouts initially are unknown and during that time, the family – his three daughters and other assorted “loved ones” – completely unravel. Secrets are revealed, venom is spewed, and lives begin (or continue) to fall apart. Nothing is what it seems as these family members whose relationships are bound only by blood or marriage, really don’t know or care much for one another – giving new meaning to the classic line from To Kill a Mockingbird, “…you sho’ can’t choose your family.”
Bill Mullen as Beverly Weston is perfectly weary, soulful, and snarky. His brief appearance at the beginning of the play continues to reverberate throughout the entire two-and-a-half-plus hours. Rosemarie Beskind as his wife, Violet, is incredible as the masticating, cancer-ridden depressive who chews up and spits out everyone for sick pleasure. Her portrayal of the rotten-to-the-core, domineering matriarch who has long since spiraled into a drug-muddled mess is dead-on. While the couple only interacts on stage for a few moments, the ugliness of their relationship continues to hang overhead like a dark, ominous cloud.
Virginia Wolf as the eldest daughter, Barbara Fordham, is perfection. Having seen her in Susan Yankowitz’s Night Sky with the Suffield Players, Wolf is no stranger to intense, affecting roles. Barbara is a lost soul, her life in shambles, caught in the midst of so many things she cannot control from a philandering husband and a failing marriage to a pot-smoking daughter to her disastrous family of origin. Her husband, Bill, adeptly played by Phil Godeck is strangely apathetic to Barbara’s needs and we never do get to the bottom of their troubles. Young Jacqueline Lasry (a recent Northeastern theatre graduate) as their sullen, often high-as-a-kite daughter, Jean, is fantastic. The three authentically represent the any-family who is in crisis, the one you might imagine could be your next-door neighbors.
Ivy Weston is an interesting and complicated character with classic middle-child syndromes. She strives to be heard but only has been rebuffed by her mother and never feels accepted or happy. Marisa Clement portrays Ivy’s inner turmoil capably and convincingly. Suzanne Robertson as Karen Weston is terrific as the at times shrill, self-absorbed and superficial youngest daughter, who despite her 40 years, still has her head in the clouds (or maybe in the sand). Her beau, Steve Heidebrecht, played by Enrico DiGiacomo, is just the right touch of phony schmooze and sleaze. Despite mid-story reveals, you don’t wonder at all why they remain together, because, well, why not?
Helen Malinka is Mattie Fae Aiken, Violet’s younger sister, another character who possesses some downright ugly character traits – but I guess they run in the family. Malinka plays the consummate shrew, with few if any redeeming qualities. Her husband Charlie, a spot-on Bruce Larsen, is the strong and stoic fool who stays by her side. Their son, Little Charles, the not-so-little 37-year-old gawky and odd butt of Mom’s constant haranguing, is excellently played by Logan Lopez. Lopez embodies this character to a T.
Anna Neild is Johnna Monevata, something of an interloper within the Weston household; her character is at the same time both a bold and unobtrusive presence as she takes in and traverses all of the bedlam. Mark Proulx as Sherrfif Deon Gilbeau is excellent as the bearer of the family’s tragic news.
One may watch August: Osage County and either see glimpses of their own family or ardently hold onto the notion that theirs is nowhere near the train wreck of the Weston clan. But no matter what, families are imperfect, as are each of the members who comprise them. In a layered, complex story such as this, the issues are aplenty, the comedy is dark and overflowing, and the jabs come at you like a one-two and then a three-four-five PUNCH. The large ensemble cast worked like a tight, well-oiled machine.
Shout outs also go to Mike Robertson for set design and lighting, and Nicole Bushey as the wearer of many hats: stage manager, producer, costumer, and set dresser. As Chris Bushey said in his director’s notes, the idea of creating an entire open-floor plan house with no walls was a feat – which I can say did work in most respects. (My only minor criticism is that the very intense post-funeral dining room scene may have been more impactful had it been center stage.) It was something like looking at a dollhouse with the outer walls removed. The cast navigated the single, unchanging set well, including the many incidents of foot-stomping on the stairs, fleeing of the rabid household for the “outdoors,” and ascending the stairs to the attic “bedroom.”
The Windsor Jesters provided an intensely satisfying evening of theatre, replete with a multitude of belly laughs as well as awkward and gut-wrenching moments. A job well done!
”A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it for the first time, then I know it can’t be much good.” — T.S. Elliot
I need to start this review with a confession. I did not want to see this play, August: Osage County (AOC). I narrowly escaped the movie adaptation. The film, produced by George Clooney, had a stellar cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis and others. It was up for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama. As a current voting member (I had the screener) I was supposed to watch it. I heard from some fellow critics (what do they know anyway) that it was too dark, dreary, and lacked humor, so I never watched it. (Oops, two confessions!)
So I went to the Windsor Jesters’ production with some reluctance. Whatever happened to that storm they predicted for that night? (Is that three confessions?) Well, I am THRILLED to say that I was so happy the weather people were wrong and I was able to see this insightful, smart, sassy, and funny — yes, FUNNY — production.
The play was written by Tracy Letts and premiered at the famous Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. It went on to Broadway and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play tells the story of a dysfunctional family — the Westons — who have more skeletons in the closet than Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. These skeletons are gradually outted during the play after the sudden disappearance of the patriarch of the family. The secrets mount, finally climaxing in a crushing denouement. (I’d tell you, but my wife, co-reviewer, and editor has barred me from spoilers – she’d edit them out, anyway.) But I can tell you that the play is like Shrek’s onion/ogre analogy (yes, I really went there). Ogres, and life, are like multi-layered onions. With respect to the structure of August: Osage County, layers are craftily peeled back until we see the stark human condition with all its failure, faults, and fragility.
Kudos to the Windsor Jesters cast who had to work as a collaborative team in order for a play like AOC to succeed. And succeed it did. The cast members all were terrific, each having their own moments to shine. Virginia Wolf whom we absolutely adored in Suffield’s production of Night Sky, gave yet another riveting performance as Barbara Fordham, the eldest of the Weston sisters. She was the perfect foil as both an actor and character to the wonderful Rosemarie Beskind who played the matriarch, Violet Weston with such vibrancy and verve. The Patriarch of the family, Beverly Weston, was played by veteran actor Bill Mullen. Watching him drink and spout lines from T.S. Elliot made me think of Burl Ives’ performance of “Big Daddy” in the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Similarly, watching Suzanne Robertson’s fine performance as Karen Weston, I was reminded of Madeline Sherwood’s great performance of Mae (Sister Woman) in the same film. Logan Lopez brought his solid acting chops to the role of Little Charles Aiken (he was so good maybe he wasn’t acting at all — one of the best compliments an actor can receive — his unorthodox but hilarious bio, totally in character with his role didn’t shed any light on this question). He had great chemistry with cousin Ivy Weston, the youngest of the Weston sisters, sensitively and vulnerably played by Marissa Clement. Enrico DiGiacomo played a great sleazeball as Steve Heidebrecht, Karen’s main squeeze. I loved watching him seduce young Jean Fordham, played vibrantly and sassily by Jaqueline Lasry, and the audience at the same time. Props also must go to the rest of the cast for their fine and moving performances including Helen Malinka as the sarcastic and abusive Mattie Fae Aiken (I was reminded of Mary Tyler Moore’s performance as the abusive mother in Ordinary People), Bruce Larsen as the carnivorous but good natured Charlie Aiken, Phil Godeck as the likeable adulterer Bill Fordham and, last but not least, Mark Proulx in the relatively small but significant role of Sheriff Deon Gilbeau.
One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed the performance besides the fine acting was the overall structure of the play. While it dealt with and explored dark and even painful themes like adultery, substance abuse, and incest, it had many funny – downright hilarious – moments. The sequences with overlapping dialogue also were very effective.
In choosing to direct AOC, a play with a large cast, multiple scene changes, staging and blocking issues that would daunt the most equipped theatres today, a director is taking on a labor of Hercules, The very capable director, Chris Bushey, not only rises nicely to the challenge, but creates a powerful piece of theatre.
So, in the end, I was glad I was wrong, the weather people were wrong and the cast and Crew of the Windsor Jesters’ production of AOC were right. One of the best compliments that I can give AOC is that maybe, just maybe, I’ll watch the film version now.