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The Steppenwolf Theatre Company Presents "August: Osage County"
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The Steppenwolf Theatre Company Presents "August: Osage County"

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company Presents:
August: Osage County
(Steppenwolf Website)

By Tracy Letts

Munson Hicks as Beverly Weston
Deanna Dunagan as Violet Weston
Dee Pelletier as Barbara Fordham
Jeff Perry as Bill Fordham
Madeleine Martin as Jean Fordham
Sally Murphy as Ivy Weston
Kristina Valada-Viars as Karen Weston
Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aiken
Francis Guinan as Charlie Aiken
Ian Barford as Little Charles
Kimberly Guerrero as Johnna Monevata
Brian Kerwin as Steve Heidebrecht
Troy West as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau

Imperial Theatre
220 West 48th Street

Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Scenic Design: Todd Rosenthal
Costume Design: Ana Kuzmanic
Lighting Design: Ann G. Wrightson
Sound Design: Richard Woodbury
Original Music: David Singer
Dramaturg: Edward Sobel
Original Casting: Erica Daniels
New York Casting: Stuart Howard,
Amy Schecter & Paul Hardt
Fight Choreographer: Chuck Coyl
Dialect Coach: Cecilie O’Reilly
Production Stage Manager: Deb Styer
Production Supervisor: Jane Gray
Technical Supervisor: Theatersmith, Inc./Smitty
Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Associates/Irene Gandy
Marketing: TMG: The Marketing Group
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 25, 2008

In three hours and three acts, the Weston clan and its partners come together in a massive set at the Imperial Theatre to unpeel their family secrets, desires, guilt, exploitation, masochism, sadism, jealousies, greed, addictions, depression, and, yes, violence. This is a Halloween family, not the Thanksgiving round table of turkey and stuffing. The gifts this family gives one another are slaps in the face, pulling of hair, hiding of pills, and sexual groping of a minor. Oh, and throw in some cousin-incest, the only apparent real love on view in this rural Pawhuska, Oklahoma home, crawling with thirteen restless, seething, reality-soap characters.

Tracy Letts and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company have exported almost the entire cast of their smash hit to New York, where audiences become mesmerized and transported into the openness of the set, almost like neighbors, watching this unfolding, extended family drama. We laugh, we cry, we sit impatiently to see who does what next to whom, and how they react, and then who enters the room and what they say, and on and on. The play opens with Beverly Weston (Munson Hicks), the father, expounding on the condition of life, a monologue to an American Indian housekeeper, who sits for this “interview”. Weston père tells Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero), who remains mostly silent, about his drinking and his wife’s pill-popping, their life’s bargain. As it turns out, Weston disappears soon after the monologue, first spending some time with Violet Weston (Deanna Dunagan), his wife from Hell. Weston has apparently gone fishing.

Thus, the relatives arrive to deal with Weston’s disappearance, and it’s no wonder he left. Mattie Fae Aiken (Rondi Reed), Violet’s sister, rolls in like a tornado, with her milk-toast husband, Charlie (Francis Guinan). Their son, Little Charles (Ian Barford), not so little, receives maternal verbal abuse thicker than whipped cream. Little Charles has a secret passion for Violet’s daughter, his first cousin, Ivy Weston (Sally Murphy), the needy child who lives nearby and bears the brunt of her mother’s foggy, drug-induced existence. Those drugs partially kill the pain of mouth cancer, Violet’s “condition”, and partially kill the pain of her bottomless anger (from her own child abuse and rejection). Barbara Fordham (Dee Pelletier), the Westons’ eldest daughter, arrives with her estranged husband, Bill (Jeff Perry), and their pre-teen daughter, Jean (Madeleine Martin). Barbara is already lashing out at everyone within range, morphing into her mother, and Jean is already experimenting with drugs and sex, family traits rapidly growing as the play speeds along.

The third daughter, Karen Weston (Kristina Valada-Viars), shows up with her fiancé, Steve Heidebrecht (Brian Kerwin), who makes a move on young Jean in the dark. And, Karen lets it go, opting for the honeymoon of her dreams. Meanwhile, Beverly Weston’s disappearance turns into apparent suicidal drowning, and Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Troy West) arrives, Barbara’s former “beau”. Thus the saga fuses these thirteen characters into a kaleidoscope of calamity, with one to twelve onstage at any one time, on the couch (where family or lovers’ secrets explode), in the bedroom upstairs (where Johnna relaxes in bliss), in the dining room (where egos are sliced like steak), and on the couch-mattress (where tossed-away love becomes final rejection).

Each actor artfully becomes her/his character, to such a degree that the two intermissions seem unwanted and jarring. Deanna Dunagan will surely win awards for this cutthroat role, a three-hour challenge (twice on matinee days), that forces her to vividly consume her family for sustenance. Rondi Reed is another powerful actor with untenable needs and uncontrollable words. Dee Pelletier, a substitute tonight (like Munson Hicks and Kristina Valada-Viars), oozed frustration, desire, and anger with palpable tension. Kristina Valada-Viars, with trophy fiancé in tow, exuded triumph and delusion in split-timing. Sally Murphy, as Ivy, and Ian Barford, as Little Charles, were persuasive in grasping at their illegal relationship, no matter the cost. Jeff Perry, as Bill, like Troy West, as the Sheriff, defiantly escaped the poisonous Weston nest, while Munson Hicks escaped early on, as well. The scenario around his will was as dark as the deep lake waters. At the end of three hours, the quiet, nurturing Johnna truly became the Weston “Housekeeper”. Kudos to Tracy Letts, and kudos to Steppenwolf Theatre.

Amy Morton and Deanna Dunagan
in "August: Osage County"
Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Cast of "August: Osage County"
Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Cast of "August: Osage County"
Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at