Anger blisters in ‘August: Osage County’
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Prepare yourself to watch a family that was dysfunctional to begin with completely fall apart in the drama “August: Osage County.”
The St. Thomas Players’ production, in performance at Lee Street theatre, contains a strong cast full of emotion. There’s a grim fascination in watching the three daughters and their relatives spill their guts at a tragic time in their life.
The play is less about the sudden tragedy and more about the tragic, battered, abused and abusive family members. Plenty of lives change, but none, it seems, improve. Anger breeds contempt and the wedges that divide the Westons become unfathomable abysses. No one wins. It’s just a matter of survival.
Debbie Hubbard-Pastore as daughter Barbara Fordham and Polly Adkins as her mother Violet Weston, take the stage with commanding performances. Hubbard-Pastore’s energy never flags as she portrays an angry, bitter woman who is turning into a shadow of her alcoholic father — and her pill-addled mother.
Adkins, who has played Violet before, is dippy, trippy, dripping with sarcasm and vicious criticism. As a mother, she’s a nightmare. As a wife, not much better. She can elicit sympathy and then provoke anger in a heartbeat.
Hubbard-Pastore’s transformation into a profanity-spouting shrew who drives everyone away will leave you feeling a little shell-shocked. Her realization of what has happened at the end is sudden, final and devastating.
Matthew Monte plays her philandering husband, Bill, and Addison Bevis plays Jean, their pot-smoking 14-year-old. Monte can be sympathetic and biting, caring and fed-up. Bevis is the distant teen who gets high to try and ease the pain of her world falling apart.
Daughter Ivy, played by Jennifer Hubbard, is the one who lives near her parents and has become the one to clean up the messes. Ivy is insecure, tentative and under her mother’s thumb. Hubbard plays her with nervousness and simmering resentment.
The third daughter, Karen Weston, played by Stephanie Gardner, doesn’t show up until the second act, spouting self-help babble and going on and on and on about finding herself. When her slimy fiancé appears, the already distant daughter further separates from the family. Jon Bowlby is the too-slick Steve Heidebrecht whose wildly inappropriate behavior and criminal activity blows the family apart in an explosive scene.
Violet’s sister, the acidic Mattie Fay Aiken, is played by Anne Lambert. Mattie Fay is a loathsome loudmouth who belittles her son constantly and shrilly orders around her husband, the long suffering Charlie, played by Bob Paolino,
Jacob Asher is the subject of Mattie Fay’s abuse, her son Little Charles Aiken, a 37-year-old man who still lives at home and can’t keep a job. Not one, but two shocking relationships revolve around Little Charles.
Paolino makes Charlie perhaps the most sympathetic person on stage. Otherwise, the rest of the characters are distinctly unlikeable.
John Snell’s brief appearance as father Beverly Weston, a once well known poet, is memorable. He spouts a lot of quotes at Johnna, the woman he’s hiring to help take care of his wife. He drinks without stopping and comes across as a world-weary man who has been through too much. He needs the anesthesia of alcohol.
Lizelle Restar plays Johnna, a quiet Cheyenne woman trying to make it in a house full of lunatics, chief among them, Violet.
When bad news comes, and you find out early that it’s inevitable, Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, played by Steve Cobb, must deliver it. Complicating matters is the fact he was Barbara’s high school boyfriend.
Director Kurt Corriher deserves credit for keeping the anger just below hysteria and helping the cast form a bizarre family. Rehearsals must have been exhausting.
David Pulliam designed a complicated set, with upstairs and downstairs, and Chris Speers’ painfully harsh or subtle dark lighting adds to the mood. Dr. Bethany Sinnot, the props master, has a daunting task each night, keeping edible and inedible food on the table for a vicious scene, keeping up with plates that are broken every night and a host of household stuff in order.
There’s madness in this family, taking on all kinds of forms. It is sometimes painful to watch, and ultimately a bit draining. The play is not for children, but suitable for mature adults who can handle brutal language and fierce emotion.
Be prepared to spend about 3 1/2 hours in this messed-up world. The play is in three acts, with two 10-minute intermissions. “August: Osage County,” presented by the Center for Faith & the Arts, is sponsored by Alfred C. Wilson & Co. Builders. Performances continue tonight and July 28-30 at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For tickets, go to www.leestreet.org or call 704-310-5507.