August Osage County by Tracy Letts Steppenwolf Theatre Production

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“August Osage County”

by Tracy Letts

 

August: Osage County is a darkly comedic play by Tracy Letts. It was the recipient of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago on June 28, 2007, and closed on August 26, 2007.[1] Its Broadway debut was at the Imperial Theater on December 4, 2007 and transferred to the Music Box Theatre on April 29, 2008. The Broadway show closed on June 28, 2009 after 648 performances and 18 previews.[2]

 

The show made its UK Debut at London’s National Theatre in November 2008. A US national tour began on July 24, 2009, with its first performance at Denver’s Buell Theatre

Production History

 

Produced by Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the show originally ran at Steppenwolf in Chicago in the Downstairs Theatre.[3]

The Broadway production began previews on October 30, 2007 at the Imperial Theatre only days before the 2007 Broadway stagehand strike on November 10 which temporarily closed most shows on Broadway. The strike continued through the official opening date of November 20, forcing the show to re-schedule its December 4 opening. The Broadway show closed on June 28, 2009 after 648 performances and 18 previews.[2]

The production, originally slated to close on February 17, 2008, was extended for three weeks to March 9 after the strike, and later extended to April 13, 2008.[4] when it was subsequently given an open-ended commercial run.

Both the Steppenwolf and Broadway productions were directed by Anna D. Shapiro, featuring scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Ana Kuzmanic, lighting design by Ann G. Wrightson, sound design by Richard Woodbury, original music by David Singer, dramaturgy by Edward Sobel, dialect coaching by Cecille O’Reilly, and fight choreography by Charles Coyl. Both productions were stage managed by Deb Styer, with Jane Grey joining the New York company.

August: Osage County made its UK debut at London’s National Theatre in November 2008.

Additionally, a US National Tour was launched at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House on July 24, 2009 with Estelle Parsons portraying the role as Violet. This production went on to tour throughout the country.[5]

 

The play made its Israeli debut at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv in January 2009 starring Gila Almagor.

Also, the play made its Puerto Rican debut at the Rene Marquez Theater Hall of the Luis A. Ferre Performing Arts Center in San Juan in March 2009 starring Gladys Rodríguez.

It also was presented in Australia, at the Arts Centre Playhouse, Melbourne, produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company, and starring Robyn Nevin, from the 23rd of May to 27 June 2009.

The play had its German premiere in Mannheim at the Nationaltheater (31 October 2008) under the title “Eine Familie” (German for “A family”), directed by Burkhard C. Kosminski. The Austrian premiere in Vienna, in the Akademietheater from 31 October 2009 onwards was staged by the latvian director Alvis Hermanis and featured Kirsten Dene in the role of Violet Weston.

The play has been translated into Spanish and has premiered in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the Teatro Lola Membrives, starring Norma Aleandro and Mercedes Morán. It has been successfully running there for more than a year now, with frequent sold-outs.

 

The play made its Swedish debut at [Göteborg City Theatre] http://www.stadsteatern.goteborg.se/. Opening Night on January 29th, 2010, starring Ann Petrén, and its Danish at the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen.

August is as well due to premiere in Montevideo by mid-2010, at the Teatro El Galpón, after the success of the Argentinian production.

August was premiered on April 29th 2010 in Lima, at the Teatro La Plaza – Isil, starring Claudia Dammert.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company opened a production in Sydney in conjunction with the Sydney Theatre Company in August 2010.

The New Zealand premiere of the play was presented by Auckland Theatre Company in September 2010, starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Stuart Devenie and Nancy Brunning and directed by Colin McColl. The Wellington production opened at Circa Theatre on April 1, 2011, with Jennifer Ludlam reprising the role of Violet.

The play had its national regional premiere on September 9 of 2010 in Albuquerque, NM with Fusion Theatre Company. According to the website for the company, the run for this production was completely sold out.[6] The cast included professional and Tony-nominated actors such as Laurie Thomas and Joanne Camp, and directed by Gil Lazier. Review: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/alb/alb15.html

The play had its Ohio regional premiere on September 23 of 2010 in a co-production of The Human Race Theatre Company and Wright State University Theatre.[7] The production was the first co-production of its kind for this play, combining seven professional actors with six students (EMC candidates) in WSU’s BFA Acting program, and played to over four thousand during its three week run in the Robert and Elaine Stein Auditorium on the Wright State campus.[8] This production featured Susanne Marley as Violet Weston, a role she had played in the Broadway production, as well as Rainbow Dickerson, also from the Broadway production.[9]

The play has its Dutch premiere on May 1st 2011 at the Stadsschouwburg Utrecht (Utrecht City Theatre) by theatre company De Utrechtse Spelen. It will be directed by Antoine Uitdehaag and stars Tjitske Reidinga, Peter Blok, Ria Eimers and Tom de Ket. The Dutch title is Augustus: Oklahoma.

It made its Florida premiere at Florida Repertory Theatre Company in Fort Myers in March 2011.[10] On April, 20th, 2011 8 PM the show will kick off at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

August: Osage County had its first college premiere at Western Illinois University on April 20th, 2011. Due to a serious fall during its final week of rehearsal, the director had to step in for the lead and perform the role of Violet Weston.

 


 

Plot

 

A show about dealing with the past and present. The show runs about 3 hours and 20 minutes long including two 10 minute intermissions.

Prologue

The play opens with Beverly, the patriarch of the Weston family and Johnna, a young Native American woman he hired as a cook and caregiver for his wife, Violet Weston, who is addicted to several prescription drugs and exhibits paranoia and mood swings. They lightly converse about Violet’s current problems and touch on the past without revealing too many details, most of which Beverly concedes are the result of her personal demons far worse than the drugs can cure. Violet enters the scene clearly affected by her drugs. The scene closes with Beverly realizing the sense of dread his life has become. This will be Beverly’s last appearance in the play.

Act One

Assembled in Beverly and Violet’s house are several members of the Weston, Fordham and Aiken families; Beverly Weston has not been seen for five days. The family members reminisce with stories about Beverly and each other, with Violet’s confrontational tendencies against her daughters becoming evident. Through various scenes, we learn that each family member harbors a range of emotions toward each other—animosity, guilt and denial. We learn that Barbara has marital problems due to her husband’s adultery with his college student—a problem that will fester between them throughout the play. We see that Violet harbors deep pain and dispenses accusations against her daughters. Near the act’s end, the sheriff enters to alert the family that Beverly has been found: drowned in a lake in what is presumed his suicide. The act closes with Violet spiraling into confusion.

 

Act Two

The family has come from Beverly Weston’s funeral. Violet’s daughters and her sister, Mattie Fae, share more family anecdotes and past stories—a few are painful memories. Violet’s drug habit is fully realized by the family; her drugs block her painful past and shield her from dealing with the present. The scene progresses toward a large, formal dinner that Johnna and Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, have helped prepare. In an aside, it is revealed to the audience that Little Charles and Ivy (first cousins) are secret lovers who plan to leave for New York. During the dinner, tensions boil into a horribly violent confrontation between Violet and her daughter Barbara. Family members scramble to end the physical fight and make sense of the hatred between mother and daughter. Barbara seizes the moment to finally confront her mother’s drug addiction by having a doctor called, the house searched and rid of all her mother’s prescription drugs.

 

Act Three

It is the next day, but the pain of the dinner confrontation has not gone away. We learn Violet’s doctor thinks she has brain damage. Violet, now more coherent and off her drugs but no less incorrigible, is resigned to dealing with her demise on her terms. She enters and discusses her future with her daughters. The illicit relationship between Little Charles and Ivy becomes a source of frustration for Barbara and others, as Mattie Fae reveals that Little Charles is not really Ivy’s first cousin—he is actually Mattie Fae’s illegitimate son by way of Beverly (Mattie Fae’s brother-in-law), which would make Little Charles and Ivy half-brother and sister. In another scene, Karen’s fiancé, Steve and Jean (who is only 14 years old) get high on a marijuana joint. Johnna walks in on Steve trying to molest Jean. She hits Steve with a frying pan several times and relates what she saw to Jean’s mother, Barbara, and aunt, Karen. Barbara, dealing with her own husband’s infidelity, lashes out at Jean and tried to teach her daughter that there are the “good guys and the bad guys.” Barbara then confronts her sister Karen, who mistakenly blames Jean for what happened. This ugly confrontation sets the mood for the remainder of the play: each character becomes more despondent from each other; it is implied most of the relationships between Violet’s daughters will be forever fractured. By this time, the house is almost empty except for Barbara, Johnna and Violet. Barbara and her mother have one last angry confrontation during which Violet blames Barbara for her father’s suicide. Violet also reveals his suicide might have been preventable since she knew which motel he stayed in the night he left the house. The play ends depressingly, as Barbara, knowing her mother’s temper and madness have won against anything rational, leaves the house. Violet is left only with Johnna, who ends the play with a recitation from a T.S. Elliot poem: “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends”.

 


 

Video Clip

 

 

Characters

 

Beverly Weston

The father and patriarch of the Weston family, aged 69. An alcoholic and former poet, his mysterious disappearance one evening and eventually discovered death are the reasons for the family’s reunion. The reasons for his alleged suicide are a major plot point that bring some of the family’s dark past painfully back into the light.

Violet Weston

The mother and matriarch of the Weston family, aged 65. She is addicted to several prescription drugs, mostly depressants and narcotics. After Beverly’s funeral, the family’s focus shifts to keeping her clean. Despite her drug-induced episodes, she is sharp-tongued and shrewd: she is aware of the family’s many secrets and not hesitant to reveal them.

Barbara Fordham

The oldest daughter of the Weston Family, age 46. Mother of Jean and wife of Bill, though they are currently separated. She is a college professor in Boulder, Colorado. She wants to save her marriage, but has the intense need to control everything around her as it falls apart.

Ivy Weston

The middle daughter of the Weston family, age 44. Known as “Mom’s favorite”, though Violet constantly tells her she’s plain and needs a man. The only daughter to stay in Oklahoma, she teaches at the local college. She is secretly having an affair with her “cousin”, Little Charles, and plans to move to New York with him.

Karen Weston

The youngest daughter in the Weston family, age 40. She is newly engaged to Steve, whom she considers the “perfect man”, and lives with him in Florida, planning to marry him soon.

Bill Fordham

Barbara’s estranged husband and Jean’s father, age 49. A college professor who is sleeping with one of his students, but wants to be there for his family.

Jean Fordham

Bill and Barbara’s 14-year-old daughter. She smokes pot and cigarettes, is a vegetarian, loves old movies, and is bitter about her parents’ split.

Steve Heidebrecht

Karen’s fiancé, age 50. A businessman in Florida, (actually, as it turns out, a Middle East arms dealer) and not the “perfect man” that Karen calls him. He eventually sexually molests Jean after the two smoke pot together.

Mattie Fae Aiken

Violet’s sister, Charlie’s wife and Little Charles’ mother, age 57. Just as jaded as her sister, Mattie Fae belittles her husband and son. Eventually she reveals the major plot point that Beverly, not Charlie, is the real father of Little Charles.

Charlie Aiken

Husband of Mattie and the presumed father of Little Charles, age 60. Charlie, a genial man, was a lifelong friend of Beverly. He struggles to get Mattie Fae to respect Little Charles.

Little Charles

Son of Mattie and Beverly, 37 years old—but, like everyone else, he believes Charlie is his father. His mother calls him a “screw-up”, which may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. He is secretly having an affair with his “cousin” Ivy, who is revealed to actually be his sister.

Johnna Monevata

A Cheyenne Indian woman, age 26, whom Beverly hires as a live-in housekeeper shortly before he disappears. Violet is prejudiced against her, but she wins over the other family members with her cooking skills, hard work, and empathy.

Sheriff Deon Gilbeau

A high-school classmate and former boyfriend of Barbara’s, age 47, who brings the news to the family about the amazing and hard investigation of Beverly’s disappearance.

 


 

Original Chicago Cast
Original Broadway Cast
Original London Cast
  • Ian Barford* — Little Charles
  • Deanna Dunagan — Violet Weston
  • Kimberly Guerrero—Johnna Monevata
  • Francis Guinan* — Charlie Aiken
  • Rick Snyder* — Steve Heidebrecht
  • Dennis Letts — Beverly Weston
  • Fawn Johnstin—Jean Fordham
  • Mariann Mayberry* — Karen Weston
  • Amy Morton* — Barbara Fordham
  • Sally Murphy* — Ivy Weston
  • Jeff Perry* — Bill Fordham
  • Rondi Reed* — Mattie Fae Aiken
  • Troy West—Sheriff Deon Gilbeau
  • Diane Dorsey—u/s Violet, Mattie Fae
  • Robert E. Dennison—u/s Beverly, Charlie
  • Patrice Egleston—u/s Barbara
  • Lori Myers—u/s Ivy, Karen
  • Peter Davis—u/s Bill, Steve, Sherriff Gilbeau
  • Steven Marzolf—u/s Little Charles
  • Sadieh Rifai—u/s Johnna
  • Zanny Laird—u/s Jean

(*) Steppenwolf Ensemble Members

  • Ian Barford* — Little Charles
  • Deanna Dunagan — Violet Weston (succeeded during the run by Estelle Parsons and later Phylicia Rashad)
  • Kimberly Guerrero—Johnna Monevata
  • Francis Guinan* — Charlie Aiken
  • Brian Kerwin — Steve Heidebrecht
  • Dennis Letts — Beverly Weston
  • Madeleine Martin — Jean Fordham
  • Mariann Mayberry* — Karen Weston
  • Amy Morton* — Barbara Fordham
  • Sally Murphy* — Ivy Weston
  • Jeff Perry* — Bill Fordham
  • Rondi Reed* — Mattie Fae Aiken (succeeded during the run by Elizabeth Ashley)
  • Troy West—Sheriff Deon Gilbeau
  • Munson Hicks—u/s Charles, Beverly
  • Susane Marley—u/s Violet, Mattie Fae
  • Jay Patterson—u/s Steve, Bill, Sherriff
  • Dee Pelletier—u/s Barbara, Karen, Ivy
  • Molly Ranson—u/s Jean
  • Aaron Serotsky—u/s Little Charles, Sherriff
  • Kristina Valada-Viars—u/s Johnna

(*) Steppenwolf Ensemble Member

  • Ian Barford* — Little Charles
  • Deanna Dunagan — Violet Weston
  • Kimberly Guerrero—Johnna Monevata
  • Paul Vincent O’Connor—Charlie Aiken
  • Gary Cole* — Steve Heidebrecht
  • Chelsie Ross—Beverly Weston
  • Molly Ranson—Jean Fordham
  • Mariann Mayberry* — Karen Weston
  • Amy Morton* — Barbara Fordham
  • Sally Murphy* — Ivy Weston
  • Jeff Perry* — Bill Fordham
  • Rondi Reed* — Mattie Fae Aiken
  • Troy West—Sheriff Deon Gilbeau
  • Morgan Deare—u/s Charlie, Beverly
  • Anne Kavanagh—u/s Violet, Mattie Fae
  • Mitchell Mullen—u/s Steve, Bill
  • Lizzie Roper—u/s Karen, Ivy
  • Sarah Van der Pol—u/s Jean, Johnna
  • Ian Porter—u/s Little Charles, Sherriff
  • Elizabeth Moynihan—u/s Barbara

(*) Steppenwolf Ensemble Member

 

Film Adaptation

 

A film production of August: Osage County is being prepared by producers Harvey Weinstein and Jean Doumanian.[11] The film, to be produced and distributed by The Weinstein Company, will be directed by television veteran John Wells. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts were in talks to star as of September 2010. In November 2010, Streep was officially cast as Violet Weston, with Roberts cast as her oldest daughter, Barbara. The film is slated to start production in March 2011 with an expected screen release in September 2011 by Paramount Pictures.

 

Awards and Nominations

 

2007 Jeff Award (Chicago) for Best New Work – Play

2007 Jeff Award (Chicago) for Best Production – Play

2008 Drama Desk Award for Best New Play

2008 Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Play

2008 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play

2008 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding

New Broadway Play

2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

2008 Tony Award for Best Play

2009 Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, “best-of” list, saying, “Even with a run time of three and a half hours, Tracy Letts’

2007 drama of Southern-fried familial dysfunction went by in one lightning-fast jolt of pure theatrical electricity.”

 


 

Origins of the Play’s Name

The play is named after a poem written by Howard Starks. Of this, Tracy Letts has stated, “I could never come up with a title as brilliant as ‘August: Osage County.’ Mr. Howard Starks, gentleman, teacher, poet, genius, mentor, friend, created that title for an extraordinary poem that is one of the inspirations for my play. I steal the title with deference, yet without apology — Howard, I’m sure, would have it no other way — and I dedicate this play to his memory.”[13]

References

  1. “Backstage History – August: Osage County”. Steppenwolf. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  2. “Headlines: August: Osage County Sets June 28 Closing Date”. Broadway.com. 2009-06-17. Retrieved 2009-07-06. 
  3. Charles Isherwood (2007-08-13). “A Matriarch After Your Attention, if Not Heart”. The New York Times.Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  4. Staff writers (14 January 2008). “August: Osage County Extends Again, Through 4/13”. Broadway.com. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  5. Jones, Kenneth. Estelle Parsons Will Play Violet in August National Tour”, January 21, 2009
  6. Fusion Theatre Company
  7. Florence, Russell. “Dysfunction Rages On The Plains,” Dayton City Paper 29 September 2010.
  8. Dayton Daily News and Reviews
  9. Playbill August-Osage-County.
  10. Floride Rep August Osage County
  11. Mike Fleming (September 30, 2010). “Julia Roberts And Meryl Streep To Team In ‘August: Osage County’ For John Wells”. Deadline Hollywood Daily.Retrieved 2010-09-30. 
  12. Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), “THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS”. Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  13. Sports Extra

 

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