Tri-State Theater

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

August: Osage County

   Last night I attended the opening performance of August: Osage County, and was blown away - it's powerful production about the battles between a dysfunctional family as they face life and death and a matriarch who has jumped the rails.

   It's an amazing show, both for the riveting performances by the actors involved and for the incredible set that the ARTS tech crew has assembled. It all adds up to one of (if not THE) most impressive production of the year.

   You have one more chance to catch the show this weekend, tonight at 8 p.m., and then three shows next weekend. Don't miss it!

   I'll have a full review posted here soon, and I have some cast interviews to share, but first, here's an excellent story from the Herald-Dispatch written by my pal Dave Lavender (the photo above is by Toril Lavender):


   Walk into the ARTS Renaissance Center auditorium and be prepared to scrape your jaw off the floor.
   For the past three months, Greg Morris, Tom Olson and friends have built a house.
   Every square inch of the old Huntington High School stage is filled with a multi-level home complete with a porch, den, bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room - all sturdy as a Southside bungalow and all left open to the audience.
   Starting Friday night, Violet Weston and her daughters try their dysfunctional family darnedest to tear that house apart in the part comedy, part tragedy and full-on feuding masterpiece of contemporary theater that is Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama August: Osage County.
   Directed by Mike Murdock, ARTS' production of August: Osage County has a two-weekend run set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, and Thursday through Saturday, May 19-21, at the Renaissance Arts Center, 900 8th St., Huntington.
   Show-only tickets are $15 and dinner and a show are $30. Call 304-733-2787 to make your dinner reservations now. Tickets can be bought online or - if not sold out - at the door on the day of the performance.
   August: Osage County stars Huntington-based professional actress Mary Williams as the salty, pill-popping, chain-smoking family matriarch Violet Weston, who leads a cast of troubled characters, including her daughters - Barbara Fordham played by Amy Carlson, Ivy Weston played by Kate Morris and Karen Weston played by Joanna Murdock.
   "I am a fairly reserved person, and this gives me a chance to be angry and expressive and not worry about my behavior because Violet doesn't much care what people think," Williams said. "She has reached a level where she is telling the truth about it all, whether they want to hear the truth or not."
   That "truth," seen through everyone's own lens, comes spilling out of the play as soon as it opens, as family patriarch Beverly Weston (played by Robert Hutchens) confides to his new hired help about his crumbling marriage imploding after decades of abuse and neglect.
   "My wife takes pills, and I drink," Hutchens said. "That's the little deal we've struck, a little paragraph in our marriage contract."
   When Beverly drives away from their rural Oklahoma home and mysteriously disappears, the family's three daughters and extended family emerge to provide support for Violet. But as the families keep coming, they literally and figuratively unload their baggage into the increasingly cramped home place, under the weight of family pressure in the summer's stifling heat.
   Murdock said he had been trying to get ARTS to put on the play, one of his favorites, for the past few years. But he said the timing is perfect as ARTS has someone in-house (pun intended) in Greg Morris to build the house, which is like another character in the play with its many levels and capacity for showing so many people confined in one place.
   "One of the big concerns about this play is that you have to have the house. The house is another character in the show, and we never had the technical expertise to do it before. But Greg had always wanted to build it, and when they said yes to the show I immediately called him up and was like, 'Boy have I got a project for you,'" Murdock said.
   "He leapt at the chance and probably regrets it now, but he and Tom Olsen have built this amazing set that doesn't even look like a set; it looks like a house," Murdock said. "... I hope that everyone loves this show, but at the very least I want that wow factor that when they walk through the doors and see the house for the first time - it will take their breath away."
   Like the timing of having someone on board who could build the house, Murdock said they too feel lucky to have reeled in Williams to be a part of the ARTS company this year and to tackle a role so out of character for her.
   "I had worked with Mary a couple times at Marshall and had worked with her in Noises Off with Fifth Avenue Theater Company about six years ago," Murdock said. "I lured her in with this play, a play that she always wanted to do but a character she never thought she would get to play because she (was) always considered too nice to play the character. We have stretched those bounds quite a bit. People are going to see quite a different Mary Williams. They are used to the nice sweet Mary that we all know and love it is going to be a little bit different."
   Amy Carlson, who plays Barbara, said although the play takes place in Oklahoma it shows an all-too-familiar tangled web of big families with multiple issues from relationships to prescription pill and alcohol abuse.
   Both Williams and Carlson said they did not like the play when they first read it several years ago. Williams said it took multiple readings to understand that there was love in that family buried beneath the layers of dysfunction.
   Carlson agreed and said she felt like although the Weston family is an extreme case, there are shades of us all in these characters.
   "When I read this play for the first time about five years ago, I thought, 'Good grief, how can these people exist?' but when you stop and think about it - well, I kind of know someone like that, and oh yeah, well, maybe I do know more people like this ... there are shades of things that we do as human beings that are all throughout this play," Carlson said. "It is yourself, it is your mother, it is your brother, your sister, your aunt, your grandmother ... Whenever distance takes hold, it is easier to be close when you are far away. When you are on top of each other, like the people are in this house, secrets come out and bad things happen, and in the end, it is a little bit more hopeful, they do all break away, not in the best of circumstances but they do break away."
If you go
WHAT: ARTS opens a two-weekend run of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama August: Osage County
WHERE: Renaissance Arts Center, 900 8th St., Huntington.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 13-14, and Thursday through Saturday, May 19-21.
HOW MUCH:Show-only tickets are $15 and dinner and a show are $30. Call 304-733-2787 to make your dinner and show reservations.
GET TICKETS: https://artsaugust.eventbrite.com or at the door on the day of the performance.
WHO'S IN IT: Beverly Weston - Robert Hutchens; Violet Weston - Mary Williams; Johnna Monevata - Sheila Meade; Barbara Fordham - Amy Carlson; Bill Fordham - Simon Woods; Jean Fordham - Amanda Maynus; Ivy Weston - Kate Morris; Mattie Fae Aiken - Linda Reynolds; Charlie Aiken - Todd Green; Little Charles Aiken - Dylan Clark; Karen Weston - Joanna Murdock; Steve Heidebrecht - Tyler Bradley; and Sheriff Deon Gilbeau - Jonathan Maynard
BEHIND THE SCENES: Director - Mike Murdock; Asst. Director/Fight Choreographer - Mike Naglee; Stage Manager - Michael Sullivan; Set Designer/Master Carpenter - Greg Morris; Technical director/lighting designer - Nathan Bradley; Costumer - Anna Baker; Properties - Becky McClelland and Cyndi Mac Fuller.
THE DINNER: Garden salad with raspberry vinagerette dressing; Orange Picante Chicken Breast; white, brown and wild rice mix; broccoli florets; rolls; apple pie with cheddar cheese.
ON THE WEB: Visit http://www.artstristate.org for more information.
ON DECK AT ARTS: Other upcoming ARTS productions include The Full Monty Aug. 19-20 and 25-27, God of Carnage Oct. 14-15, 20-22, and New Works Dec. 2-3 and 9-10.

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