The tension in Langham Court Theatre was so thick on opening night you could smell it as clearly as the herbal cigarette smoke that punctuates August: Osage County.
When directors Keith Digby and Cynthia Pronick told me last March they had a “tremendous” cast, they were not exaggerating.
From the opening monologue, presented solidly by Nick Stull as Beverly Weston – the character whose disappearance the play surrounds – to the reserved role of watcher, housekeeper Johnna Monevata, portrayed by UVic theatre student Keshia Palm, this play erupts like a volcano more often than creeps quietly like a mouse.
Written by Tracy Letts, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner is based on a critical event in his own family: his maternal grandfather’s suicide, when he was 10, and his grandmother’s ensuing drug addiction.
August: Osage County opens with Beverly, a once-famous poet, interviewing Johnna, a young Native American woman, for a position as live-in caregiver for his wife Violet, who is being treated for mouth cancer. Violet, who is also addicted to several prescription medications enters and an incoherent and combative argument ensues, setting the tone for the three-hour performance.
Violet’s (Susie Mullen) rambling, venom-filled rages are downright nasty. She’s sure to make you appreciate your own mother – no matter how awful you thought she was before Mullen brings Violet to life. Her performance is as unforgettable as Violet’s rages are unforgivable.
Violet holds her three daughters – headstrong Barbara, played by Lorene Cammiade, flighty Karen, played by Renee Yakemchuk and Ivy, played by Shara Campsall, who’s hiding a secret – and their families emotional hostages.
The daughters’ personalities all reflect aspects of their mother, but it’s Barbara, who emerges as the family’s new ruler as Violet rages out of control.
August: Osage County is a complex piece with many moving parts. Digby and Pronick have done a great job of keeping that much action moving and allowing the actors to really dig deep emotionally.
It would be very easy for some of the characters, such as Perry Burton’s Steve, the lecherous fiancé of Karen to be a caricature, but instead his lust for Barbara and husband Bill’s (Wayne Yercha) daughter Jean (Amanda Wear) comes across creepy and not campy.
Young Wear, a Stelly’s Secondary student, is a standout as 14-year-old Jean, pulled between her connection to divorcing parents, who are trying to keep the fact secret from the rest of the family, and her desire for teen rebellion. Wear, who has been acting since age 8, is a natural on stage and her character often brings a respite to the sometimes sad, often frightening, disintegration of a family.
August: Osage County is a deep piece of theatre and the Langham cast and crew have done a superb job of taking on this daunting task and helping the audience see how easily the past and family ties can be torn apart.
August: Osage County includes coarse language and adult themes. It runs to May 9. The play has a 7:30pm start, is three hours with two, 15-minute intermissions. langhamtheatre.ca