August Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Bobbie Bell
Starring Peg O’Keefe, Elizabeth Dean
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL
If you average out George and Martha and Mommy Dearest, you’ll end up in the middle of Oklahoma smack dab in the emotional tornado of the Weston family. “Dysfunctional” is overused these days, but here’s a family that specializes in alcoholism, pedophilia, incest, drug dealing, drug abuse, and maybe some occasional tax fraud. Author Letts forgot homosexuality and voting Republican, but this show is already a butt-numbing three hours and you have to save some material for next time. Daddy Weston (Joe Reed) opens with a monolog on T. S. Elliot’s personal and emotional woes, and then drops off the face of the earth to get some peace and quiet. His dear drugged out wife Violet (O’Keefe) decides this is the perfect time to “talk some truth” to her reunited family, and while everyone believes they’ve hid their sins Violet knows all, tells all and pisses off all. The centripetal force of her anger spins these lost children off to the edges of the continent save oldest daughter Barbara Fordham (Dean); she remains in the baking prairie heat to pick up where her mother’s anger left off.
Three acts, three hours and if not for the bitter and delicious humor O’Keefe and her cast finds in this desperate material it would be intolerable. To remind you you’re in the heat of the Oklahoma summer the thermostat is set just high enough to keep my date uncomfortable and remind us we are here to sweat it out with the Westons. The program gives a handy family tree, we see that Barbara’s husband Bill (Stephan Jones) is a failed writer and professor with a taste for undergraduate snatch, her sister Ivy (Jenna Kirk) wears a lesbian hairdo but has a secret boy friend, and younger sister Karen (Ame Livingston) is about to marry three-time-loser and pot head Steve (Tommy Keesling). Everyone on stage has their own agenda and they pursue them all with maniacal abandon, never stopping to think about the others. Young Jean Fordham (Tianna Stevens) smokes pot with her dad, “Little” Charlie Aiken (Nicholas Parsons) look sad and is belittled endlessly by his redneck mom Mattie Fae (Robin Olson) while his dad (Riley Clermont) defends him. Over all of this insanity we find one calm center, Native American housekeeper Johnna (Gaia Nair). She listens patiently, cooks and cleans, and hangs around to perform final purification ceremony.
Why this play? Why now? While I’ve always hated those questions, they seem relevant to this production. Perhaps this show is a ticket to the side show, letting us looking into another family’s misery and congratulating ourselves we are so much better behaved. Maybe it’s a catalog of coping strategies – denial, divorces, death, decampment all are options and I think we’ve each tried one or two of along the way. Or maybe its Letts way of saying Reality TV has nothing playwrights haven’t been dealing with for a century, and what’s the Big Deal? This a challenging show and not to be approached lightly, but it’s also a show that reflects us all along with our own lame self justifications. Just stay hydrated, and don’t be afraid to do some stretching exercises during one of the many intermissions.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com