Tuesday, September 23, 2014

August: Osage County, Lakeland Civic Theatre

(From left: Diane Mull as Barbara Fordham, Courtney Nicole Auman as Ivy Weston and Debbie Jenkins as Karen Weston)

It’s a good thing Norman Rockwell never had Thanksgiving dinner at the Weston household, or that famous painting of his would have turned out a lot different.

The Westons, for the uninitiated, are the folks who populate this play by Tracy Letts, and they are a hot Oklahoma mess. Embodying all of the seven deadly sins and then adding a couple more, this is a family that would make a damn fine reality show.

And in this production at Lakeland College, featuring a cast of notable local actors, the sparks fly especially bright in the second act—after a first act that slips its gears a few too many times to be fully effective.

Family matriarch Violet Weston is married to her long-time husband Beverly, and they have an agreements that boils down to, as Violet says, “He drinks, I take drugs.” Violet is given to “telling truths” about her family, and that occasion arises when Beverly goes missing and the family is summoned from near and far.

Among the ruined people in this wreck of a family are older daughter Barbara, who is separated from her husband Bill. He still comes along, with their sullen teenage daughter Jean. Barbara has two sisters, weak and wan Ivy, who lives at the homestead, and Karen who lives with her fiance Steve (she will be his fourth wife) in Florida.

Then there’s Violet’s sister Mattie-Fae Aiken, her husband Charlie and their son, the fully-grown Little Charles. And this menagerie is watched over by the Native-American woman, Johanna (Caitlin Post), who was hired as a housekeeper by Beverly before he disappeared. Another outsider is Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Michael Vitovich), who shows up with bad news.

This is a long and monumentally demanding show, and director Martin Friedman finds the bones of this script by having his actors dig hard. In the prime role of Violet, Anne McEvoy is a shattered collision of a human being, but she continually pulls herself together long enough to torment anyone within earshot.

Although he disappears soon, Robert Abelman as Beverly doesn’t obviously telegraph the situation, speaking convivially with Johanna during her job interview. But his steady drinking and his haunting singsong exit line, “Here we go ‘round the prickly pear…” suggests darkness to come.

Diane Mull as Barbara takes on the most emotionally complex role in the play and handles it well, although some of Barbara’s twists and turns at the end feel a bit choreographed. As for the other two sisters, Courtney Nicole Auman is a sad package as Ivy, and she implodes powerfully when she absorbs the brunt of the play’s most shocking revelation. Debbie Jenkins as Karen doesn’t quite find the through line of her Act Two opening scene, but she gets stronger as the play continues.

Andrew Narten is solid as Bill and Natalie Welch is properly irritating as Jean. Rose Leninger and Jeffrey Glover are well matched as the longtime bickering couple Mattie Fae and Charlie. And Aaron Elersich as sleazy Steve and Jeremy Jenkins as Little Charles contribute crisp and telling scenes.

The first act seems to build tension a bit too slowly, with the actors often tucked up stage in little corners of Keith Nagy’s necessarily complex set. But the second act is mostly a downhill rush to destruction, with the actors and the audience hanging on for dear life.

August: Osage County
Through October 5 at Lakeland Civic Theatre, 440-525-7034
Lakeland Community College Campus (just south of Rt. 90 and Rt. 306) in Kirtland.

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