Above: Kirra Farquharson and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Below: Jake Fryer-Hornsby and Sonya Kerr
August: Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Louise Fischer
New Theatre production
542 king street,
Season: June 6 – July 7, 2018. Duration: 3-hour 10-minutes (with two intervals). Bookings: newtheatre.org.au
The title of this captivating drama August: Osage County gives the unsuspecting audience member no clue as to what they are about to experience, which is a good thing because there are so many sub-plots and diverse characters that a different label on the play could inadvertently highlight or overlook certain characters.
I suspect that this is a complex production to present. And yet, under the direction of Louise Fischer, the New Theatre has done so with simplicity and creativity. From lighting and sound to costumes and staging, the show is engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, which is no mean feat, given the 3-hour 10-minute duration (with two intervals).
The story is set in the family home of Beverly and Violet Weston, located in a small County in Oklahoma. After Beverly’s sudden disappearance, the Weston children and their partners regroup and await news of their father’s plight. Old wounds and sibling rivalries resurface, exacerbated by the matriarch Violet, whose senility is worsened by her uncontrolled misuse of prescription drugs.
What ensues is a revelation of truth, lies and secrets as family ties slowly disintegrate. Although the story seems a bit overdramatic, it provides plenty of contemporary subject matter and discussion-provoking material.
There are fabulous performances by all the cast. Dominating the story are Violet Weston and her well-intentioned but controlling daughter Barbara Fordham, played superbly by Alice Livingstone and Helen Stuart. Both actors relished their roles and ably triggered audience emotions to like or despise them at different times.
All cast members had their ‘spotlight’ moment and delivered their characters without fault. James Bean opened the show with humour and set the background scenario. Then a cavalcade of characters emerged that we have all seen in our own lives, some we like and others we avoid.
Throughout the drama, a steady constant existed in the character of Johnna Monevata, the Native American housekeeper who acted as the near-silent observer. Her humble and good nature was a much-needed contrast to the murky lives of the family of her all white-American employers. She was perfectly performed by Emilia Stubbs-Grigoriou.
Applause to all the remaining cast members: Emily Weare, Peter Flett, Sonya Kerr, Adrian Adam, Kirra Farquharson, Brett Heath, Amy Scott-Smith, Lynden Jones and Jake Fryer-Hornsby.
Full credit must go to the production team. The open stage design created three distinct locations (dining room, lounge room and attic bedroom) in the house. The family dinner scene was a memorable staging challenge with many characters in full swing. Special mention for lighting as this was crucial in keeping the audience on track as scenes were changed.
Sitting towards the back of the theatre, I can report that volume, diction and accents came across loud and clear.
A line from Violet Weston just might offer some insight into what this play is all about: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed”.
Well, my advice is to definitely get out of bed and see this production at the New Theatre. You will be delighted!