By John Roche
If the fact that August: Osage County only runs at the White Plains Performing Art Center through Oct. 14 doesn’t get you rushing to see it, then the stellar acting and seamless direction that mark this production of the Tony Award-winning play certainly should.
The limited run of August: Osage County at WPPAC—the play’s first regional theater production and the kickoff of the center’s 10th anniversary season—offers theatergoers a chance to see a spectacular cast shine in this tumultuous but at times also tender tale of a family in crisis.
The play, written by Tracy Letts, not only won the Tony for Best Play in 2008, but also the Pulitzer that same year. It’s also making its way to the big screen, with a film adaptation featuring a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts slated for next year. But WPPAC’s production, given the 13 actors who bring the twists and turns of the Weston family to life, is so captivating, entertaining and pitch-perfect throughout that it merits “must see” status.
The plot centers on a gathering of the Weston clan after the family’s patriarch, Beverly (played memorably by Dick Nagle) goes missing. As they hope he’ll return home safely, the Westons are also forced to face family secrets and other skeletons in the closet that set each of these flawed but exquisitely drawn characters on a collision course.
To describe August: Osage County as a dark comedy would be an understatement, since the humorous parts of the play are hilarious, but the dark sides of these characters and the story itself burst with the sadness, cruelty and loss that perhaps only family drama can provide.
Robin Lilly offers a tour de force performance as Violet, the pill-popping, chain-smoking matriarch of the Weston family. Lilly exquisitely handles the train wreck that is Violet, whether she’s spouting incoherent ramblings with slurred speech during one of her prescription drug-fueled episodes, or speaking all too clearly and directly about the ugly truths lurking just under the surface for this family. Lilly’s talents are on full display on the WPPAC stage as Violet alternates from fragile to fierce and back again.
The performances turned in by the trio of actresses portraying the three adult daughters in the family are also top notch, which make the clashes, power shifts and character transformations that drive the play engrossing, believable and gripping. Elyse Knight portrays the eldest daughter Barbara, who is not only dealing with the loss of her father but also a failing marriage to Bill (played wonderfully by Mark Lanham), a tumultuous relationship with her own teenage daughter (solidly performed by Emily Kaplan), and hot flashes in the middle of a sweltering Oklahoma summer.
Suzy Kimball, as the middle daughter, Ivy, and Laura Cable, as the youngest, Karen, also offer star turns as two women trying to escape into romantic relationships that ultimately bring them face to face with realities they—and anyone—would hope never to have to face.
The in-laws who come to help in the wake of the father’s disappearance bring their own set of family secrets that claw their way to the surface. White Plains resident Peter McClung nails the character of the larger-than-life Charlie Aiken, and Eileen Glenn is equally stellar as his meddlesome wife, Mattie Fae. Daniel Mian’s portrayal of their bumbling, 37-year-old jobless son Little Charles allows the character’s sweetness and loneliness to shine through his pathetic exterior.
Derek Robert Smith, as Karen Weston’s fiancé, Amanda Yachechak as the newly hired housekeeper and Arthur Wise as the town’s sheriff fill out the smaller roles of the play with commanding talent. There simply isn’t a weak link in this outstanding cast.
Other elements of the production are strong across the board under the direction of Jeremy Quinn, who is also the producing artistic director for WPPAC. The three-level set, nuanced lighting and incidental music that serves as a bridge between scenes all strike just the right notes.
Quinn says a key aspect of WPPAC’s mission, as much now a decade in as when the non-profit arts organization was launched, is to present “vibrant, accessible and affordable theater” in the heart of downtown White Plains. As the first production of the 10th season, August: Osage County couldn’t do more to embody that mission.
Remaining performances are Friday, Oct. 12 and Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call (914) 328-1600, order online at www.wppac.com or visit the box office at the theater, located at 11 City Place, City Center, 3rd floor, in White Plains.