'Osage County': Disturbing stuff, great theater

2013-02-01T00:00:00Z 2013-02-01T08:12:54Z 'Osage County': Disturbing stuff, great theaterKathleen Allen Kallen@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
February 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Oh my.

So much screaming, cursing, abuse, alcohol, drugs, cheating, incest.

It makes for a glorious night at the theater. Really.

Winding Road Theater Ensemble's production of Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County" is, in short, a thrill.

Letts takes lots of credit for that - the three-hour play is smart, packed with black humor, and a can't-turn-away-from story of the ultimate dysfunctional family.

But a very good script can be very poor theater when the production isn't up to the material.

Winding Road is more than up to it.

Director Glen Coffman assembled a large cast of talented actors led by his wife, Toni Press-Coffman in the role of the drug-addicted, acid-tongued Violet Weston, the matriarch of this crazy clan.

He took a play that he obviously cared about and infused it with fresh venom and loads of vigor.

"Osage County" takes place in an Oklahoma country home during a humid August. As it opens, we meet the patriarch, Beverly (a thoughtful Roger Owen). He addresses the audience, opening with a quote from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," "Life is very long." The despair that drips from that poem is laced throughout this play. With him is a woman he is interviewing to be a live-in housekeeper (China Young with a serene presence).

Beverly tells us about his wife, Violet. She is dying of cancer and addicted to painkillers. He is addicted to alcohol. "That's the bargain we have struck," he says.

In the next scene, Beverly has disappeared, and his and Violet's three daughters converge to offer support while the mystery of Beverly's disappearance is solved.

The youngest, Karen (Avis Judd nailed the character too anxious to find love), has brought her seriously slick fiancé with her (a perfectly smarmy Jared Stokes); the eldest, Barbara (Maria Caprile), has come with her estranged husband, Bill (Tony Caprile nicely defined the cad), and her teen daughter (Morgan Smith brought a solid defiance to the character).

Also there: the middle child, Ivy (Alida Holguin Gunn in a winning portrayal of the mousy woman who longs to break away from her family). Ivy has brought along her beau, Little Charles (Michael Gifford handled the small role well). She believes he is her first cousin.

Throw into this mix Violet's pushy sister, Mattie Fae, and her henpecked husband, Charlie (Peg Peterson and David Alexander Johnston gave well-defined performances), and you've got a family that's as volatile and nuts as any you'll find on reality TV.

Brian Wees makes a brief and believable appearance as the local sheriff.

All the actors committed deeply to this difficult play, but Press-Coffman and Caprile were especially strong. Press-Coffman had to veer from a completely stoned loon to a manipulating mother, and she nailed it. Caprile is riveting in this role of a woman in deep personal pain.

This was a brave project to take on - a large cast doing disturbing (and wildly entertaining) material.

And it's paid off, showing us not only the power of Letts' words, but strong talent and commitment among Tucson actors.

It should not be missed.

Review

• What: Winding Road Theater Ensemble's production of "August: Osage County."

• By: Tracy Letts.

• Director: Glen Coffman.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 10.

• Where: Beowulf Alley Theatre, 11 S. Sixth Ave.

• Tickets: $20, with discounts available.

• Reservations, information: 401-3626 or windingroadtheater.org

• Running time: About three hours, with two intermissions.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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