Broadway has come home to Baltimore as Everyman Theatre opens its doors at its brand new home on Fayette Street, bringing along with it the Pulitzer Prize-Winning play August: Osage County, a Tony-Award Winning play by Tracy Letts. Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, this production brings a touch of a New York City evening into Charm City with its extravagant set, sensational actors, and marvelous new house in which it’s mounted. The quintessential dark comedy – filled with family dysfunction – erupts onto the stage in this fast-paced drama. With a pill-popping mother and three estranged sisters, the family dynamic explodes into utter chaos when the patriarch of the Weston family goes missing. With the heat of Oklahoma boiling everyone’s minds the family secrets break loose and tempers fly as they race toward a shocking and stunning conclusion in this relatable production.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger has outdone himself with the gorgeous breathtaking set that sprawls across the full space of the stage. Ettinger constructs a fully functional multi-leveled cross section of the Weston house with many rooms, while making the space realistic and livable. The uniquely enchanting element of this design is that old Weston family photos are engrained into the wood paneling of the walls; essentially blending the family into the house itself. The grandiose structure is paralleled by the intricacy of the details in each individual room; each space carrying a particular feel to it based on the placement of the furniture and the subtle shifts in lighting changes.
Director Vincent M. Lancisi captures the intimacy that productions at Everyman Theatre are known for in this enormous house; making the audience no longer members of the audience but the silent flies on the wall in this living room drama as it erupts. Lancisi invites you into the Weston house leaving no moment too small or personal; everything becomes exposed and relatable and it is sheer directing genius at work. His casting is stellar; each person in their niche blending well into the hectic family dynamic, and everyone shares a deep sense of organized dysfunction; blending seamless moments of time passage and event occurrence together without a single hint of strain. Lancisi deserves an award for his delectable directorial skills as put to use in this production.
Beverly Weston (Carl Schurr) is at the center of the calamity when he disappears from the household. But before Schurr’s character vanishes we get a brief glimpse into his life, discovering that he is much like a cactus, bristly and sharp in his exterior but rich and juicy inside; a deeply compassionate man who hides his problems with prickly sarcastic remarks. Schurr alternates between moments of somber clarity and careful crafted laughs that give his character a well rounded existence even if it is brief.
The family wouldn’t be family if they didn’t all pull together— or at the very least gather together during times of crisis and loss. Of course so many estranged fragments of the family all together under one roof can lead to extreme moments of tension, and volatile eruptions of family secrets long buried. Mattie Fae (Nancy Robinette) and Charlie (Wil Love) are a great part of that eruption.
Robinette plays the flighty but down home sister to the matriarch of the Weston house. Love plays the much calmer and more patient side of that marriage, gently coddling their son as opposed to verbally badgering him. Love and Robinette balance each other to the epitome of an old married couple; he makes light of her foolishness, his deadpan deflects her cataclysmic overdramatic response to everything. The pair exisst naturally amid the chaos with all of the ripe bickering moments expected from such a couple, without hamming it up for comedic value. When Robinette erupts into a cataclysmic confession that changes the course of the play it’s nearly unbelievable. Love matches this moment with several of his own; some more comic than others when trying to defuse the more tense moments with his humorous side.
Every family has that one creepy uncle that nobody trusts but they can’t quite be sure why, and in this case it’s Steve (Bruce Randolph Nelson.) Not even fully married into the family yet, Nelson creates a subtly unctuous character that just greases his way from scene to scene; a mild yet sleazy subtext about his character that burbles through the surface of his words and physicality in a manner almost undetectable. His interactions with Jean (Heather Lynn Peacock) are when it shows best, though he does make a solid attempt to be politely sweet and faithful to Karen.
Peacock, taking on the role of the confused 14 year old stoner daughter of Weston Daughter Barbara (Deborah Hazlett) and Bill (Rob Leo Roy) manages to fit the bill with a genuine feel to her character. Peacock highlights her performance with eager nerves when interacting with Johnna (Veronica Del Cerro) and Steve. Her moments with Del Cerro are those more tender intimate moments of a budding relationship that help to anchor her in the character’s naïve and youthful age.
Del Carro portrays a native hired to assist the family and despite mostly silent presence to the scenes as they unfold, she fits flawlessly into the workings of disaster. Her demeanor is never uncertain, though she may seem shy and reserved; and her motives are clearly displayed in the vocal inflection of what few words she has. Del Carro’s attitude may be static in most situations but she proves her character to be deeply dynamic as the play progresses.
The crux of the problem in any dysfunctional household often comes down to the tightest of bonds being stretched, strained, and severed by distance and estrangement. The Weston family is no exception with Barbara (Hazlett) Ivy (Beth Hylton) and Karen (Maia Desanti). Three sisters who are often at the turning point of a scene when it goes from hilarious antics to grave somberness with a turn of phrase. Immediately the sororal bond between these three women is broken down with fake smiles and false politeness that sets your teeth on edge. But their emotions and chemistry in scenes shared with one another are anything but forced; being the exact opposite and so deep that you’d believe they were actually estranged sisters forced together for the sake of the show.
Hylton has the distinctive pleasure of delivering the zinger of the play and she does so with epic success. Her timing with that particular line and so many others is flawless, and her touch of Oklahoma in her accent is riveting; just enough to keep you reeled into the locale of the play as she gets caught up in her own dramas with Lil Charles (Clinton Brandhagen). Her sudden shifts from neutral to dark and cynical are wildly entertaining and she manages to maintain the integrity of her character’s deep emotions despite her shift in attitudes.
Desanti is the more naïve of the three sisters; bouncing in with a well concealed ignorance that is later flipped on its ass and revealed — like many things in this play— to be a cover for a much darker truth. Watching her transformation as the play progress is utterly shocking and keeps the audience in rapt attention as it unfolds.
But the shiner of the three sisters is Hazlett as Barbara — the sister with the most mama issues, the most family issues, and issues of her own that she just can’t keep down. Her characterization of the woman who has it all under control is completely believable until she just doesn’t anymore. And when Hazlett breaks loose it’s uproarious and maniacal and heart-stopping. Her portrayal of this multi-dimensional character is mind blowing especially when she’s in hyper heated moments with her mother Violet Weston (Linda Thorson).
Thorson and Hazlett have a mother daughter chemistry that must be seen to be believed. They are the epitome of the apple doesn’t sour far from the tree once it’s fallen and tried to roll as far the hell away as possible. Their moments of chaos upon the stage are explosive and sheer insanity, bursting at the seams with raw conflict with elevated stakes that would dwarf a mountain. Their shocking ending scene will literally leave you speechless.
At the head of the family sits Violet Weston (Linda Thorson) who is in a category all her own. The pill-popping addicted maniac makes this play every bit as laughable as it is tragic at moments. Thorson is a sensational performer; her staggering movements combined with her strained vocalizations are the epitome of the character’s lows. And when she has her moments of clarity they are raw and relentless. Thorson brings a rich reality to the production and truly makes this production Broadway quality.
Everyman Theatre’s August: Osage County is a Must-See! It’s riveting, funny, and devastating. What a way for Everyman Theatre to begin in their new location!
Running Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions.
August: Osage County plays through February 17, 2013 at Everyman Theatre now located at 315 West Fayette Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.