The current Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh production of dramatist and screenwriter Tracy Letts’ prize-winning 2007 dark comedy, August: Osage County, is a scorcher, with New York television soap-opera star and two-time Emmy Award® winner Dorothy Lyman generating much of the heat as Violet Weston, the irascible pill-popping matriarch of a disintegrating Oklahoma family that could put the D in dysfunctional. Violet has become addicted to pain killers while battling mouth cancer. She is physically fragile, but ferocious and determined to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The object of many of those vitriolic outbursts is Violet‘s hard-drinking husband Beverly (played to prickly perfection by Phil Crone). Beverly Weston is a published poet and teacher who tries to escape the living hell of his life with Violet by drowning his sorrows in a bottle of booze. That‘s Plan A; Plan B is that he will disappear. But, first, he hires a spunky native American cook and housekeeper (Katie Lynch as Johnna Monevata) to take care of Violet.
Beverly‘s disappearance — and presumed suicide — has the desired effect of reuniting the three Weston daughters with their impossible-to-please mother. New York actress Lisa Brescia gives a poignant performance as Ivy Weston, the quiet stay-at-home spinster daughter secretly excited that at long last she has a new man in her life. Julie Fishell is simply superb as big sister Barbara Weston Fordham of Boulder, CO. Violet brings out the worst in Barb, knows it, and delights in pushing all of Barb‘s emotional buttons.
Lauren Kennedy is amusing as Karen, the youngest Weston daughter, who lives in Florida with her wealthy fiancé Steve Heidebrecht (Estes Tarver), a handsome businessman with a roving eye. Fidelity is also a problem for Barb Fordham‘s husband, Bill (played with great feeling by Greensboro actor Jeffery West); but the Fordhams are trying to keep their marital discord on the down low in front of their precocious 14-year-old daughter Jean (portrayed by 18-year-old Mary-Mattison Mallery).
Violet Weston‘s roly-poly sister Mattie Fae Aiken (played by New York actress Pamela Dunlap), her husband Charlie (Paul Paliyenko), and sadsack son Little Charles (Jesse R. Gephart) at first seem to be on hand primarily to provide some Southern Gothic-style comic relief. But when the Weston skeletons start to tumble out of the closet, jaw-dropping secrets are revealed that involve two of the three Aikens.
August: Osage County fight choreographer David McClutchey adds a nice cameo as Barb‘s handsome childhood friend Sheriff Gilbeau, on whom she had a secret crush.
One of the factors that helped August: Osage County win the 2008 Tony Award® for Best Play and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, among other honors, is a passel of juicy characters. Dorothy Lyman squeezes the last drop of venom from the fangs of Violet Weston, Pamela Dunlap proves decisively that there is a lot more to old fat Aunt Mattie Fae than a big mouth, Julie Fishell provides a perfect foil for her malevolent mother as Barbara Fordham, Lisa Brescia makes Ivy Weston‘s loneliness palpable, Lauren Kennedy makes Karen Weston‘s desperation to get married tangible, Mary-Mattison Mallery proves that pot-smoking teenager Jean Fordham is not nearly as grown-up as she thinks, and Katie Lynch shows her true grit as housekeeper and cook Johnna Monevata.
Meanwhile, Phil Crone really sinks his teeth into the role of the lovable curmudgeon that is Beverly Weston, Paul Paliyenko is a pistol as the Weston girls‘ Uncle Charlie, Jeffery West garners sympathy for Bill Fordham as he tries to worm his way back into Barb‘s good graces, and Estes Tarver makes the audience‘s skin crawl as Karen‘s current Mr. Wrong. Jesse Gephart and David McClutchey have fewer moments in the spotlight as the slacker Little Charles and Sheriff Gilbeau, but they make every one of them count.
Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh guest director Eric Woodall elicits incendiary performances from his stars and supporting cast, and expertly guides them all through the emotional minefield that is August: Osage County. But that was to be expected from the former Benson, NC resident who has demonstrated his talent as an actor and director on so many Triangle stages. What is a total surprise is scenic designer Chris Bernier‘s superlative three-story set. It provides a terrific space on which Tracey Letts‘ host of unforgettable characters can strut and fret and hurl insults at one another. The forced family reunion at the heart of August: Osage County may not heal all wounds, but it clears the air while establishing this theatrical production as the frontrunner for top Triangle show of the 2012.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 5th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-5-foot-nothing-high-plains-twister-in-theatre-raleighs-excellent-august-osage-county/Content?oid=3208290; Dec. 1st Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-AUGUST-OSAGE-COUNTY-is-a-Win-for-Hot-Summer-Nights-at-Theatre-Raleigh-20121201 and Nov. 25th preview by the BWW News Desk: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/Photo-Flash-First-Look-at-Lauren-Kennedy-Lisa-Brescia-and-More-in-AUGUST-OSAGE-COUNTY-20121129; Nov. 30th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5874; Nov. 28th Durham, NC Independent Weekly mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/august-osage-county/Event?oid=3189077; Nov. 28th Raleigh, NC NBC 17 interview with Dorothy Lyman, conducted by Sharon Delaney and Valonda Calloway for “My Carolina Today”: http://www2.nbc17.com/lifestyles/2012/nov/28/actress-dorothy-lyman-87996-vi-54121/; Nov. 26th New York, NY Call Me Adam interview with Dorothy Lyman, conducted by Adam Rothenberg: http://www.callmeadam.com/interviews/2012/11/26/dorothy-lyman-august-osage-county-interview.html; and Nov. 25th Raleigh, NC News & Observer interview with Dorothy Lyman, conducted by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/11/24/2501754/opal-is-no-shrinking-violet.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 29th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/11/two-time-emmy-winner-dorothy-lyman-will-star-in-tracy-letts-dark-comedy-august-osage-county/.)
Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh presents AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY at 8 p.m. Dec. 8 and 3 p.m. Dec. 9 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655.
INFORMATION/GROUP RATES: 919-480-5166.
Hot Summer Nights: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.
Theatre Raleigh: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/.
August: Osage County: http://tracyletts.com/plays/august-osage-county/ (Tracy Letts’ website), http://www.augustonbroadway.com/ (fan site), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August:_Osage_County (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=467753 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Tracy Letts: http://tracyletts.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracy_Letts (Wikipedia).
Eric Woodall: http://broadwayworld.com/people/Eric-Woodall/ (BroadwayWorld.com bio).
Dorothy Lyman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Lyman (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.