Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts: August Osage County at Paperwing Theatre

“Art isn’t safe.” Bill Mosely attributed the quote to Rob Zombie on the day he had to shoot an extremely rough scene during “the Devil’s Rejects”. It was a phrase that stuck in my own mind through the years… because art isn’t safe. I like the phrase and it’s appropriate here. Art isn’t always beautiful, it isn’t always victorious, and it isn’t always going to shine a line through the shadows. Sometimes it will drag you through the broken glass and remind you of hurts and pains, it gives you an outlet for a good cry and it simply affects you in a way that can be cathartic. It can help us face the shadows within ourselves. But it still isn’t safe.

“August, Osage County” is that kind of art… a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family. They’re not the trailer trash definition of dysfunctional, either… these are middle-class, educated, and total poison to one another kind of dysfunction. Family dinners with verbal jabs and deflating dismissals, people who can’t even resist tearing one another down at the worst of times. When we first meet the patriarch, Beverly (Richard Mueller) is interviewing a young Cheyenne woman(Norma Barocio as the grounded "Johnna") for a live-in house-maid. We find out, through the course of the show, that he was once a successful poet whose work earned great honors in his youth. He was never able to follow up the success and became an established professor at the local university. His mood waxes and wanes throughout the conversation and he admits to his own alcoholism before introducing us to the family’s matriarch, Violet; Drug addled, diagnosed with mouth cancer, and cruel. She is played by Deanna Edwards in a deeply moving portrayal; chain-smoking through several scenes, baiting her relatives and opening wounds with malicious intentions and the occasional honeyed words. When Beverly goes missing, the rest of the family rushes to Violet’s side and things quickly escalate. Actually, the crap hits the fan. There are plenty of laughs, but intermission comes with a much needed reprieve for myself. The well-timed concession break gave me time to prepare for the roller coaster ride of the second half, where the fan starts hitting back with a vengeance. Big revelations, twists, turns, and some truly cathartic moments worthy of cheers. And it’s hilarious!

Okay, when you pick up a program and open the pages I want you to study every actor on the page… they are all amazing. All of them blew me away! When I first started writing this I had to try and think about a way to make this whole thing make a lick of sense without spoiling anything, but if I were to even touch on who ALL the characters are and what they did throughout their performance it would spoil just too much. Each character adds a specific dimension to the story, people we can admire, hate, feel pity for, and just flat out disgust in some cases. Some characters turn out to be not what they first seem while others become something less than what they seem. And while I want to talk about the fantastic work from each and every performer, whether they made me hate, love, cheer, or jeer for them… I just can’t figure out a way to do it without spoiling the story for others. And I want other people to walk into this as blind as I did… I only knew it was about this family and specifically focused on the mother and her relationship with the three daughters during this crisis. That was pretty much it.

I have to mention one performer, however… the physicality of her performance and the raw emotion on display deserves high praise. Linda Dale is the eldest daughter, Barbara. Playing opposite Charlotte throughout much of the show, Barbara is set as a constant foil to her mother. The two play verbal games of cat and mouse, each one struggling for a position of authority within all the chaos. The mother/daughter bond between the two characters is strong and incredibly frightening. I was moved to tears through the performance of these two women and their dynamic with one another is heart wrenching.

5 out of 5.

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