March 2008 Theatre Column
March 5, 2008
Tracy Letts' August
saw only one play last month, The Steppenwolf Theatre
Company's production of Tracy Letts' August
Osage County. August was written by
Tracy Letts (off Bug and Killer Joe
fame) and directed by Anna D. Shapiro. August stars:
Ian Barford as Little Charles Aiken (Cousin); Deanna
Dunagan as Violet Weston; Kimberly Guerrero as Johnna
Monevata (Housekeeper); Francis Guinan as Charlie
Aiken (Uncle); Brian Kerwin as Steve Heidebrecht
(Karen’s Fiancé); Dennis Letts as Beverly
Weston; Madeline Martin as Jean Fordham (Granddaughter);
Mariann Mayberry as Karen Weston (Youngest Daughter);
Amy Morton as Barbara Fordham (Eldest Daughter);
Sally Murphy as Ivy Weston (Middle Daughter); Jeff
Perry as Bill Fordham (Barbara’s Husband);
Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aiken (aunt).
I am a big fan of Tracy Letts. I reviewed Bug
the play and Bug the movie. Both were excellent
and were covered in my June
2007 Theater Column.
Bug was witty and eerie
and had supernatural elements, so I was expecting
something of the same genre with Lett’s new
play. Well, I was certainly surprised. August
Osage County may be set in heartland like Bug,
but there the similarities end. August Osage
County is one of the most brutally realistic
plays I have ever seen. It is also one of the most
August Osage County tells
the story of the Weston family, a family headed
by a paterfamilias, the (failed?) poet Beverly Weston.
When the play opens we see Beverly, a talkative
older man, interviewing a taciturn young American
Indian woman, Johnna (played by Kimberly Guerrero)
for the job of family housekeeper. He tells her
that her main duty will be to care for his wife,
Violet (played by Deanna Dugan), who has mouth cancer
and needs to be driven to her doctor’s appointments.
He also tells her that his wife does not believe
in air conditioning (it is August in Oklahoma!!!)
and that he and his wife have struck a bargain in
life – he drinks and she takes pills.
In the next scene we find out
that Beverly has disappeared and the extended family
has been summoned to “help.” First to
arrive is Violet’s sister, Mattie (the hysterically
funny Rondi Reed). Mattie is talking to her husband
Charlie (played by Francis Guinan) and she proceeds
to give the audience some of the funniest exposition
I have ever heard. She verbally dices and fillets
all the expected family members and informs both
Charlie and the audience just who is expected to
arrive and when.
Already on the scene is the middle
daughter Ivy (Sally Murphy). Ivy has never left
town and is simply appalled that her father has
left and now she will have to deal with her mother.
But that is not all Ivy will have to deal with.
Soon afterwards, the other two daughters, Barbara
(played by Amy Morton) and Karen (played by Mariann
Mayberry). And with the two daughters come additional
baggage, Barbara’s husband Bill (played by
Jeff Perry), Barbara’s precocious pot-smoking
fourteen-year-old daughter Jean (played by Madeline
Martin) and Jean’s new pedophile boyfriend,
Steve (played by Brian Kerwin).
The program for August Osage County
has a family tree of the Weston family, complete
with photos of all the cast members (there are thirteen
of them). But thirteen or not, it would take more
than twelve additional cast members to handle Mamma
When we first see Mamma Violet,
she carefully creeps down the stairs of Todd Rosenthal’s
excellent set. She actually appears harmless; an
old woman suffering from cancer whose husband has
gone missing. Well, when Beverly hired someone to
“take care” of his wife, perhaps he
should have considered hiring Britney’s body
guards. Over the course of the next two and a half
hours of the play (the play is over three hours
long), Mamma proceeds to verbally destroy everyone
who has come to “help” her. Anyone who
has ever dreaded their own Thanksgiving dinner should
see this play and its family dinner simply to get
a little perspective.
The apple, however, has not fallen
far from the tree and we quickly find out that Mamma’s
oldest daughter, Barbara, would be perfectly capable
of getting Hannibal’s elephants across the
Alps, killing any and all who get in her way. And
Barbara’s eerily precocious daughter Jean
is no victim either. It may be hotter-than-hell
and there may be pills, booze and a pedophile on-the-loose,
but the Westons family produces warrior women. And
Johnna, the housekeeper, delivers a few whacks too.
Tracy Letts wrote an astounding
script for August Osage County. The
characters in this play may have learned "to
wit" before they learned to walk, but they
are all rawly human. The play has been beautifully
directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The show is also blessed
with a fabulous set by Todd Rosenthal and an original
music score by David Singer. But even with all of
these advantages, the play could have easily floundered.
It is over three hours long and has a cast of thirteen
actors. If any one of these actors had not held
their own, the show could have dragged. But every
actor in this cast gave a wonderful performance
and watching them duke it out on stage was a theatrical
experience I hope to remember forever.
On a sad note, Michael McGuire
has just taken over the role of Beverly Weston.
The part had previously been played by Dennis Letts
(Tracy Lett’s father), who died last week.
August will play its
final performance at the Imperial on April 20, and
re-open at the Music Box on April 29 and then reopen
at the Music Box Theater on April 29, 2008.
Tickets are $26.50-$99.50 and
can be ordered by phone at 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250.
Tickets can also be ordered online at telecharge.com.
The Imperial Theatre is located
at 249 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036. The
Music Box Theater is located at 239 West 45th Street,
New York, NY 10036
For more information, log onto
February 11, 2008
Jim Norton, Sean Mahon,
Conleth Hill, David Morse
and Cirian Hinds
Last month I saw
two plays plays: Conor McPherson's The Seafarer
on Broadway and the Roundabout Theater Company’s
off-Broadway production of Beth Henley’s Crimes
of the Heart.
The Seafarer is playing
on Broadway at the Booth Theatre through March 30,
2008. The Seafarer stars: Jim Norton (as
Richard Harkin); David Morse (as Sharky); Conleth
Hill (as Ivan Curry); Sean Mahon (as Nicky Giblin);
and Cirian Hinds (as Mr. Lockhart).
Here is a quote from their press
release: “Conor McPherson's The Seafarer
is a chilling new play about the sea, Ireland, and
the power of myth. It's Christmas Eve and Sharky
has returned to Dublin to look after his irascible,
aging brother who's recently gone blind. Old drinking
buddies Ivan and Nicky are holed up at the house
too, hoping to play some cards. But with the arrival
of a stranger from the distant past, the stakes
are raised ever higher. In fact, Sharky may be playing
for his very soul.”
The play is set on Christmas Eve
in an incredibly shabby home in Dublin. The house
belongs to an old erudite drunk, Jim Norton, who
was recently blinded by an unfortunate fall into
a dumpster. This down turn in luck has necessitated
that Jim’s ne’er-do-well younger brother
Sharky come home to help out around the house.
Jim has a few friends who despite
advancing age enjoy hanging at a house where there
are no rules and a drunk can sleep off his whiskey
wherever he happens to fall. One of those visitors,
Ivan, is lying somewhere in the house as the play
begins. And wherever Ivan happens to have been,
his glasses were not and for most of the play, are
not to be found. So we now have a house populated
by two, for all practical purposes, blind drunks.
And directing traffic is the hapless Sharky, who
is trying desperately not to drink.
This motley group is soon joined
by Sharky’s ex wife’s boyfriend, Nicky
Giblin, who brings along a stranger he picked up
in the pub, Mr. Lockhart. And everyone settles down
for a long winter’s night of drink and wit
and cards. Yes, cards. No one in the house lets
blindness or drunkeness keep them from their love
of cards. But it is night of drink and wit and cards
which mask a terrifying dilemma. The devil himself
has arrived and he wants his pound of flesh. But
existential predicament or not, everyone is drunk,
and no one seems quite capable of arising to the
task of overcoming evil. But play they do, while
the devil calmly awaits his due.
Wit is the engine that drives
The Seafarer. Conor McPherson’s script
is beautifully crafted; he is a playwright who was
blessed with the gift from the Irish god of gab.
And all of the actors have exquisite timing. Of
special note are Jim Norton as Richard Harkin and
Conleth Hill as Ivan Curry; they are undoubtedly
two of the funniest actors alive.
The Seafarer is playing
at the Booth Theatre at 222 West 45th Street. Tickets
are $76.50-$96.50. By Phone - 212-239-6200 &
For more information, log onto:
Crimes of the Heart
I also saw the Roundabout Theater’s
production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of
the Heart. Crimes is directed by Kathleen
Turner and stars: Patch Darragh as Doc Porter; Jennifer
Dundas as Lenny Magrath; Sarah Paulson as Meg Magrath;
Lily Rabe as Babe Botrelle; Jessica Stone as Chick
Boyle; and Chandler Williams as Barnette Lloyd.
Paulson recently starred in Aaron Sorkin’s
cancelled TV show, Studio 60, where she
played the part of the goody-two-shoes Christian
performer, Harriet Hayes who is in love with the
cynical creator of Studio 60, Matt Albie
(played by Matthew Perry). This story was oh-so-loosely
based on the real life romance between Christian
singer Kristin Chenoweth and Aaron Sorkin.
Crimes has always been
one of my favorite Southern gothic plays. Some other
reviewers have been a little put off by Henley's
constant witty banter, but I am from the South and
I know Southern women talk just like that, all the
time and a lot.
Any theatrical production of Crimes
will, justly or not, be compared to the excellent
1986 movie version of Crimes that starred
Diane Keaton as Lenny, Jessica Lange as Meg and
Sissy Spacek as Babe. Those three actresses really
shot the ball out of the park and set an impossibly
high standard for future productions.
I saw the Roundabout Theater's
production while it was still in previews. The night
I was there, the role of Babe was played by the
understudy, Jessica Cummings. So, what did I think
about this production? Well, I thought the set as
incredible and that there were a quite a few talented
actors in the cast, especially Jennifer Dundas as
Lenny and Patch Darragh as Doc Porter. My only other
comment is that the play seemed a little disjointed,
like the production had not quite set. But that
problem is probably explained by the presence of
the understudy (who did an excellent job) on the
stage and by the fact that getting a play to settle
in, is exactly why there are previews.
Tickets are $63.75-$73.75. Order
by phone at 212-719-1300 and online at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/1207_splash.htm.
Crimes plays at the Laura Pels Theatre
at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
at 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036. The
show closes on April 20, 2008.