Not just spectacular, last night’s opening, May 30 at The Barn Players Playhouse of their new production, “August: Osage County” astounded audience members with its gloriously spectacular opening with bravura performances by the entire cast led by the directing genius of Darren Sextro.
“August: Osage County”at The Barn marked the play’s initial production in the Kansas City Metro area by a community theater group. The Barn, usually limited by its stage, transformed the area into a three-level set that functioned well for this dark comedy/drama. The show brings all-new meaning to the term dysfunctional family.
Twists and turns throughout the play keep the audience guessing, “What could possibly happen next?” In this case the unbelievable becomes the believable. “August: Osage County
is not a play for young audiences or those offended by strong language. In this play, the F bomb becomes normal and commonplace. And, even with a plethora of foul language, the audience bursts into flights of laughter throughout.
The play centers on the Weston family. Beverly, the patriarch opens the play by hiring a cook to assist his drug dependent wife, Violet. After engaging a cook, Beverly disappears only to be discovered deceased, later. During his disappearance, the family reunites and the fireworks begin.
Small-town Oklahoma, where people who are not related certainly know everybody else in the town, strikes a familiar note with anyone from small, rural communities. The Weston family certainly unveils its share of problems, and the audience responds with a mixture of laughter and disbelief. Anyone who does not know the story will certainly be surprised that each twist and turn created by Tracy Lett’s play, “August: Osage County.”
The concept of the play comes from the directorial mind of Darren Sextro. His cast features: John Rensenhouse, Jennifer Coville, Anita Meehan, Pam Haskin, Elizabeth Hillman, Greg Butell, Barb Nichols, Eric Magnus, Courtney Desko, Trevor French, Stasha Case, Tim Ahlenius, Michael Bunn.
The nuts and bolts of the show stem from the creative team: Betsy Sexton, stage manager, Christina Schafer, assistant director; Chuck Cline, lighting design; Sean Leistico, sound design; Frank Polleck, set design; Lynn Reddick, asst. stage manager; Rhonda Wickham, properties design; Alex Morales, graphic design; Roy Peck, set construction assistant.
From top to bottom, the cast is phenomenal. John Renseshouse and Jennifer Coville open the play, and introduce the beginnings of the problems to follow. Rensenhouse produces a very good affable character, Beverly, who quickly displays his dark side and alcoholism. His fame from 40 years earlier haunts him like a shadow that he cannot escape. Coville as Jonhnna, the Cherokee Indian, hired to help around the house and cook, plays a very subdued character, so different from Coville’s past performances. The show gave her a chance to show a different and deeper side to her dramatic talents, even though she had few spoken lines.
Next to appear are Anita Meehan and Pam Haskin, as Violet and Matte Fae, sisters. Both actresses delivered commanding performances. Their stage presence created a battle every time they had scenes together. Both performed admirably with strength and conviction throughout the show. Meehan, as the title character, kept the audiences eyes open and on her throughout. Her character, addicted to prescription drugs and painkillers, is dying of mouth cancer. Her pain is insufferable and the lengths she travels to keep the pain under control has affected her mind. She goes from loopy to sharply focused in the blink of an eye. The audience never knows which side you expect. Haskin, as Maddie Fae supports her sister and stands beside her throughout the play. Haskin’s arguments with her husband are hysterical, and her relentless disappointment of her son are painful. Haskin does a beautiful job of balancing the two sides of the character and display each conviction.
As the oldest of the Weston sisters, Barbara, portrayed by Barb Nichols, tries to hide her family secrets as she returns after her father’s disappearance. Her husband of many years, Bill, played by Eric Magnus bring their dirty laundry and wild-child daughter, Jean, played by Courtney Desko, back to Oklahoma for the deathwatch. Nichols and Magnus, known through the area for their directing skills, did an about-face and took on an acting challenge. Nichols especially undertook a huge character and performed it with determination and strength. Her Barbara bursts onto the scene and continually builds the character to a crescendo. She spars with Violent, her two sisters, her husband, and her daughter.
Magnus brings his own bag of problems to the watch party. As Bill, he’s left his wife but dearly loves his daughter. He realizes he can no longer live the facade to maintain the marriage. His acting is strong, yet subdued. He cannot appear stronger than Barbara without distracting from the story. He must show the love, understanding, and support of his daughter as she struggles through the separation of her parents and the loss of her grandfather. Courtney Desko, bring the exuberance of youth to the play. She portrays a 15-year-old, raging hormones, and an affinity toward pot. She’s believable in a small, but important character in the play.
Elizabeth Hillman and Stasha Case portray the other two daughters of the Weston family. Hillman, as Ivy, stayed behind to care for her parents. She’s given up her chance at happiness for the care of others. Not so Karen Weston, Stasha Case, who escaped small-town Oklahoma, seeking happiness and finding out that happiness eludes her, the faster she chases it. Both are smaller characters, but very central to the dysfunction of the Weston family. These actresses show vulnerability and innocence against the harsh reality of the story.
Greg Butell, fresh off portraying Atticus Finch, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” brings laughter throughout the show. He plays the Weston’s son-in-law, Charlie, and the father of their only grandson, “Little Charles.” Butell plays a henpecked husband, who has learned to tune out Mattie Fae and her constant barrage of insults and disparaging remarks about others– most notably her son, Little Charles. When he can stand her demeanor no longer, Butell, displays how he can take command of the stage and story in the wink of an eye. He plays his part with compassion to others until he’s pushed beyond his limits. Great job in a smaller part.
Trevor French, takes on the role of the County Sheriff. It’s a small part, but it’s important to the flow of the piece in the resolution toward the end. Count on French to always deliver a really different character in every project he undertakes. Similarly, Tim Ahlenius, plays Karen Weston’s fiancé. He appears as likable until the layers start revealing that he’s a pot-smoking oversexed, potential child molester. Ahlenius gives a very strong performance with a character that is most despicable in the show.
Original music for one scene of “August: Osage County” comes from Michael Bunn, who portrayed Little Charles. Even though Bunn’s performance on stage was limited, he put an indelible stamp on a character that appears slower and common-sense challenged. While the character is slow, Bunn does not play him as a handicapped individual. He shows him as an individual who has continually been crushed by an uncaring and unloving mother. Bunn’s character is very insecure because of the emotional abuse inflicted on him by Mattie Fae.
“August: Osage County” opened May 30 and continues weekends or June 15. Opening-night brought a sellout crowd and a standing ovation. The audience rose to their feet he for the first character took a bow. The performance was overwhelmingly good. The acting was superb. The directing, the set, the props, and all other technical aspects were more than expected. The show was probably one of the best, if not the best in recent history at The Barn.
No one who intends will find a weak performance or a flaw throughout the show. “August: Osage County” is a phenomenal show with a phenomenal cast. For the show, some normal seating areas have been removed, leaving only about 80 seats for each performance. It is strongly recommended to purchase tickets before arriving at the theater. The show is a popular show and will sell out many times. Do not be blocked out. Do not miss your chance to see this production.
Tickets can be purchased at the website: www.thebarnplayers.org