It’s probably impossible to leave a production of August: Osage County without feeling a pang or two of familial guilt. But whatever you do, don’t let that dissuade you from seeing it. Just think of it as a higher-brow version of a trashy daytime talk show, or even one of those daytime ”judge shows” about petty family disputes. Many people watch such shows to feel at least a tad bit better about their own lot in life.
And once you see Tracy Letts’s fictitious Weston family, you just might want to call your parents to catch up and make sure they know you love them. Especially if you moved far away from home and aren’t always the best at staying in touch.
In a season that also included a well-received production of Spring Awakening, the Keegan Theatre has proven that it’s more than capable of pulling off dramatic ensemble productions. Now with August: Osage County, director Mark A. Rhea, Keegan’s artistic director, has assembled another solid cast of 13 actors. All of them, more or less, manage to breathe life into characters that could easily have been played as over-the-top caricatures. That’s especially true of family matriarch Violet Weston, played by the exceptionally great Rena Cherry Brown. A self-confessed pill-popping drug addict, Violet is more monster than mother, cutting anyone and everyone down to size with choice barbs attacking them at their weakest spots…But Brown also reveals Violet’s humanity, and the pain and insecurities that have caused her to be so easily irritable and nasty, far more so than have all the drugs combined. It’s an exhausting role, but one that the two-time Helen Hayes Award winner handles as if it were all just a normal day’s work.
Violet’s favorite daughter is her oldest, Barbara Fordham, played convincingly by Susan Marie Rhea…Barbara is the most outspoken and most strong-willed of the three girls, and the only one capable of effectively dealing with mother.