‘August: Osage County’ is a contemporary American drama blended with black humour. It was crafted by Tracy Letts and was the Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best New Play on Broadway. Although its World Premiere in 2007 was interrupted for quite a while by a stagehands’ strike, it went on to play in such diverse countries as India, Poland, Taiwan and Spain.
It also was first presented in Australia, starring Robyn Nevin, in 2009 at the Arts Centre Playhouse in Melbourne.
The 3-week season opens on Friday, 21st June at the Latvian Centre Theatre, 60 Cleaver Terrace in Belmont. The auditorium has well-raked seating. It has a newly surfaced, huge free car park … and a warm welcome from Front of House, Bronwyn Hammond.
The 3-hour (Act 1 is 2 hours then a 15-minute interval and a final 45 minutes) performances begin at 7.30 pm: 21–22 June 27–29 June and 4–6 July. With Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm. on the 23rd and 30th June.
The scene: The Weston’s three-storey homestead in Pawhuska in Osage County, Oklahoma. The action takes place over the course of a few weeks in August when the heat is brutally oppressive.
The set: Wow. When the stage is full what do you do? Fill a third of the auditorium floor! In front of the stage there were the ground floor interiors scenes, with a very smart dining area seating a dozen, a large oak sideboard, a record player and a bookrack. Centrally was a two-seater sofa bed, an electric keyboard and a teak coffee table. A staircase leading up to the bedrooms. To the side was the father’s office, with an oak desk, swivel desk chair, a comfortable armchair and a mountain of books. At the rear is a rustic patio.
On the stage is a landing with seats, a passageway and another staircase leading up to an attic bedroom with a single bed and an ornate dormer window.
The unusual and intricate construction, even with the help of Martyn Churcher, Keith Shackleton, Neale Paterson, Jeremy Heenan and Barry Park, took designer Gary five days to build. All the walls in the house were made of 3-inch (7 cms) slats of chipboard, with an equally large black space between them. The cream coloured strips were treated to have a patina. An amazing rustic look.
The homestead was fully furnished thanks to the begging and borrowing skills of Kiri Siva, Jack Blumer and Chris McIntosh
The original music was composed by Myles Wright and it expressed the mood of each scene perfectly. The orchestration had well-chosen instruments. The sound design included the music, and split-second timing on some sound effects; all were smoothly operated by Harrison Cotgreave.
Due to the large set, Mark Nicholson’s lighting design was complex. With advice from Don Allen, the lighting operator Callum Hunter had perfect control of the lights.
The production manager, Seanne Sparrow, has a huge job on her hands but with an experienced stage manager, Gary Wetherilt and his mighty assistants, Jeremy Heenan and Neale Paterson, the show flowed beautifully.
Seated in the study is the once-famous, world-class poet and now full time alcoholic, 69 yrs. old Beverly Weston (Martyn Churcher). Bev is interviewing a young Cheyenne Red Indian, sorry Native American woman, Johnna Monevata (Sarah Thillagaratnam) for the post of live-in housekeeper and carer. Bev’s wife Violet (Chandra Wyatt) who is still a chain smoker, is undergoing treatment for mouth cancer and needs extra care. Suddenly Violet bursts into the office stoned and drunk, but unfazed by the vicious loud-mouthed junky, Johnna accepts the post.
One day Bev goes fishing on the lake and disappears. Fearing the worst, the family are sent for by Bev’s daughter Ivy Weston (Jackie Oates) a local librarian, who dutifully and compassionately helps care for her obnoxious Mum.
First to arrive is Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Alida Chaney) who has also inherited all the family’s cruelty and unrelenting bad points. With Mattie is her husband, an amiable chap, Charlie Aiken (David Cotgreave) and their withdrawn, slightly simple son, 37 years old ‘Little Charlie’ (Nic Doig) desperate for caring love and attention.
When college professor Barbara Fordham (Sally Barendse), the oldest of Violet’s three daughters arrives, she receives the insincere, lovie dovie treatment from her mother and Aunt Mattie, who then turn to Barbara’s ‘all innocent’ but outspoken, 14-year-old vegetarian daughter, Jean (Tessa Bevilacqua) who loves to smoke pot. Jean’s affable Dad is Professor Bill Fordham (Dean McAskil) who seems to just go with whatever his wife Barbara says.
When Violet’s youngest daughter Karen (Jennifer McGrath) arrives with her ‘perfect fiancé’, the sleazy and a randy businessman, Steve (Robert Jackson) then the conniving mother is in her element.
It is some days before Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Cameron Leese) calls to tell the family that Bev has been found – sadly dead.
All there is now for this grief-stricken family is the funeral, the family wake and of course the revelations.
The costumes were created or gathered by Jenny Prosser. With years of experience behind her, you knew that every piece of clothing would be authentic, from the sheriff’s uniform to Mattie Fae’s leopard patterned dress.
When any family gathering takes place, there is always on relative who feels it is his / her duty to spill the beans on what secret or gossip they have just heard. This play has more beans than Steve Warne on tour.
When you see that the Director is Barry Park, then you know that every aspect of the play will have been carefully considered, that the cast will be well-rehearsed and know their characters perfectly. I have seen many of Barry’s works in the past and this has to be his best yet. Thomas Dimmick helped with the auditions and casting.
The part of Bev may have only been about 15 minutes, but it included a massive monologue delivered by the father, Martyn, delivered with charisma and enthusiasm. Chandra as the horrendous mad matriarch was outstanding, performing with every ounce of her body. There was not a single ‘average’ or even ‘extra good’ performance, every actor was exceptional in grasping the depth of their characters. It almost seems unfair to pick out a couple, when the whole cast worked so powerfully and with such tremendous chemistry, but I should like to congratulate Alida and Jackie on a couple of special explosive moments. Stunning.
PLEASE do not be put off by the play’s length. This play oozes talent, fabulous performances, it is fast-paced, and the story is crammed with plenty of action. One small point, the theatre is looking great, but as yet the heating has not been sorted out. The producers have supplied blankets, but some people may require a little extra.
This show deserves the biggest of audiences, it is truly ‘a theatrical juggernaut of epic proportions.’