Thursday, March 19, 2015

"August: Osage County" – Spring cleaning in summer

The cast of “August: Osage County” is filled with talented EPAC veterans

It’s not quite the first day of spring, and the Weston clan is already heavily into spring cleaning. Spiritual, psychological spring cleaning.

Beverly Weston is making sure his cancer-ridden, drug-addicted wife, Violet, is taken care of by a housekeeper he’s hiring. Violet is trying to get her middle daughter, Ivy, to spruce herself up and attract a man. Beverly and Violet’s three daughters are trying, half-heartedly, to fix all that’s wrong with their mother, and they’re all in the process of making significant changes in their lives with respect to the men they’re in relationships with.

OK. It isn’t really spring within the world of “August: Osage County.” In fact, it is summer in a non-air-conditioned house, and it’s as hot as H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick –too hot to be doing the kind of cleaning that's about to be done.

Welcome to the Weston household in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Relatives are returning to the family homestead on the Plains, which eldest Weston daughter Barbara describes in the play’s first act this way: "This is the Plains: A state of mind ... some spiritual affliction, like the Blues." 

But the Plains aren't her spiritual affliction at the moment. Her family is.

“August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play the Ephrata Performing Arts Center is presenting beginning tonight – Thursday, the eve of the first day of spring – is filled with people trying to cleanse themselves of their pasts, their toxic relationships with other family members, their issues and their pathological patterns. But, as if they’re foundering in quicksand, the harder the Westons struggle to spring clean, the deeper they sink into the muck.

Not far into the play, Beverly – a poet and professor – winds up missing, and the family must gather to deal with this crisis, and many more in each of their personal lives. Pretty quickly, the issues siblings have with their parents, each other and their partners come spilling out in chaotic, unconstructive and nasty ways. Drug-addled Violet wants everyone to engage in “truth-telling.” She should be careful what she wishes for.

In this production of “August: Osage County,” the terrific cast of veteran EPAC actors basically had to learn stage-combat choreography for a domestic dinner-table scene. This play – this family – is not for the faint of heart.

Elizabeth Pattey, left, is Violet, Ken Seigh is Bill and Susan Kresge is Barbara in “August: Osage County” at EPAC.

But the play IS for anyone who has experienced moments of dysfunctional family drama. It’s for those who want to laugh and gasp at a black comedy that’s an examination of human foibles, parent-child relationships and the ways in which relatives can wound each other.

It’s for those who can feel sadness for feckless characters the audience can see are headed for disaster. It’s for those who don’t mind adult themes and some fairly salty language. The Westons, you see, don’t speak nicely to each other when they’re spring cleaning.

It’s for you, if you love challenging theater that examines family relationships and the human condition. It’s for you, if you want to try to hold on for a wild ride of a play that may leave you exhausted at the end of the evening.

And it’s for you, if you start your spring by ordering tickets from EPAC for “August: Osage County,” playing Thursday through April 4 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Call the box office at 733-7966.