AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

Seattle is having an excellent theatrical season so far this year, and Balagan’s latest production, “August: Osage County,” the Pulitzer prize winning drama by Tracy Letts, might just be the icing on the cake!

With an epic dramatic structure reminiscent of those of Chekhov, combined with the piercing, psychological insight into family dynamics evocative of Arthur Miller’s plays, this three and a half hour dramatic tour de force is a roller coaster ride of emotions with so many twists and turns that it will leave you breathless by the end, but still wanting more.

At first the show starts off a bit slow, with what is basically a R-E-A-L-L-Y long monologue by “Beverly,” (played by Charles Leggett), a retired professor and poet who has hired “Johnna,” (played by Jordi Montes), a native american woman needing a job, to be the housekeeper.  We learn very quickly the problems of the household: Beverly is an alcoholic and his wife is a drug addict suffering from mouth cancer.

But once this extended prelude scene is over, things quickly pick up pace when “Beverly” goes missing, prompting the return home of his three daughters: “Barbara”, “Ivy”, and “Karen” (played respectively by Teri Lazzara, Caitlin Frances, and Kate Jaeger).

Without getting too much into the plot, which is extremely complex and filled with many surprises, suffice it to say that we very soon learn that “Beverly” has died, and the rest of the play focuses on the many secrets and strained relationships of his dysfunctional family.

By far, the most intriguing character is that of Beverly’s sharp-tongued, sometimes lucid, sometimes pill addled wife, “Violet” (played by Shellie Shulkin). Shulkin gives one of the most moving, honest and brilliant performances that I have seen in any show. She captures the abrasively resilient nature of the “people of the Plains,” and particularly those of her generation, “the Greatest Generation,” with astonishing acuity. And I contend that she should be nominated for a Gregory AND a Gypsy award as “Best Actress” this year.

Although the entire cast is top-notch as an ensemble, other very strong performances are given by Lisa Viertel , who plays “Mattie Fay,” and by Teri Lazzara as “Barbara.” Viertel, in particular, brings much comic relief into this otherwise heavy show. It should also be mentioned that John Q. Smith and Chris Ensweiler also deliver very realistic performances in their roles as husbands to “Barbara” and “Mattie Fay.”

Directed by Shawn Belyea, with Ahren Buhmann as Set Designer and Technical Director, this truly American drama is certainly worth the three and a half hours of attention it demands.

“August: Osage County” is now playing at the Erickson Theatre off Broadway on Capitol Hill through April 27. www.balagantheatre.org8623657436_2cb57918f5_z

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