If you like your comedy down, dark, dirty and delightfully funny, 2nd Story Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” is the play for you.
Director Ed Shea got the first Rhode Island rights to this 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, giving it a full-blown, outrageously dark and funny interpretation. Using 13 actors and every bit of the enormous theatre space, Shea has opened up the usually intimate space to make room for the three-tiered set created by Trevor Elliott, enhanced by Ron Allen’s lighting.
The play opens with a prologue. Beverly Weston (Tom Roberts) is interviewing Johnna, a young Cheyenne Indian woman (Kira Arnold) for the job of housekeeper and nursemaid for his wife, Violet (Lynne Collinson).
“My wife takes pills. I drink,” Beverly tells her.
Scene 1 finds Beverly missing for five days. Violet is frantic. The family gathers. And what a family it is! Oldest daughter Barbara (Joanne Fayan) and her cheating husband, Bill (Andy Stigler), arrive with their 14-year-old, pot-smoking daughter, Jean (Valerie Westgate). Middle daughter Ivy (Emily Lewis) and youngest daughter Karen (Tanya Anderson Martin) arrive, both with big secrets. Violet’s sister, Mattie (Paula Faber), husband Charlie (Vince Petronio) and “slow” son Little Charles (Nicholas Thibeault) arrive and liven things up. Their outrageous secret is revealed later in Scene 3.
Because of some clever writing and great ensemble acting, all of these characters, plus two more (Tom O’Donnell and Joe Henderson) are easy to keep straight.
Hidden hostilities lead to confrontations and barbs among family members. Violet’s mood swings, caused by her over-medication, lead to tense but hilarious moments.
Scene 2 centers around the family post-funeral dinner, which ends in absolute chaos…a scene that could have been pure calamity. Shea has managed to pull it off with finesse. Watch the individual actors, and you will actually see red faces as they totally get inside their characters.
Scene 3 centers around what will happen to all of these flawed people after secrets are out in the open (especially the one between “kissin’ cousins). And what will happen to Violet and Barbara, the two strong-willed family members.
T.S. Elliot’s quotes bring is in and out of this over-the-top, fast-paced dark comedy that leaves the actors and the audience exhausted after two hours a forty minutes, another departure from Shea’s rule of keeping the production to two hours. But it is time well spent, and I recommend the craziness to you.
“Augest: Osage County” is at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre through April 1. Tickets are $25 ($20 for age 21 and under). It is R-rated, however, with adult language and situations. Call 247-4200 for reservations.