That elongated evening of theatre clocks in at a little less than four hours in Mark A. Rhea’s scintillating production at the Keegan Theatre, the long-anticipated premiere for the Washington area. And as the Weston family secrets gracelessly unfurl, Rhea’s cast leisurely ignites the fireworks, building a grand bonfire with Rena Cherry Brown as its blazing effigy.
Letts’ acerbic affair is set in rural Oklahoma, but may as well be any hot pocket of American civilization, as presented in Stefan Gibson’s elaborate domestic setting. And just as her crooked paintings hang tenuously upon the wall, Brown’s Violet is a slightly off-center vision, a slip of a woman who simultaneously slurs and strikes, her sanity always hanging in the balance. She is a hypnotic creature, this mother who eviscerates her offspring with merely a glance, and Brown delivers Violet’s delicious malice with a scalding intensity, most often to Belen Pifel’s resolute Ivy.
While the majority of Rhea’s ensemble is equally compelling — including Kevin Adams’ thoughtful turn as the put-upon husband of Violet’s sister — it is through Susan Marie Rhea’s painful portrayal of Barbara that we witness firsthand the quiet generational wars fought in living rooms and dining chambers all across the country.