Playwright Tracy Letts has some impressive productions on his resume'. As an actor, he performed admirably in seasons one and two of "Homeland." He wrote "Killer Joe." and adapted it later into a memorable movie vehicle for Matthew McConaguhey. It is "August: Osage County," though, of which Mr. Letts is most proud. He says it is the truth about his family and the environment in which he grew to manhood. If true, one wonders how much therapy Tracy Letts has endured. "August: Osage County" was moving when it was a film project starring Meryl Streep that was released in 2013 by The Weinstein Co. On stage, it is three hours of gut-wrenching powerhouse drama that leaves everyone involved a wrung out mess. Bainbridge Performing Arts opened this masterpiece this weekend. Shows continue through April 2. Friday and Saturday performances have a 7:30 p.m. curtain. Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m. There is one Saturday matinee April 1. That show begins at 2 p.m. There is no evening performance that night.
Kate Carruthers' has a long directorial history with Bainbridge Performing Arts. That history makes her the perfect choice to helm this project. The material takes a deft touch and Ms. Carruthers is a master at the craft. She chose Barbara Deering to play the role of Violet Weston, the emotional linchpin in this dysfunctional family freak show. Her performance is transcendent in the role of a mother and wife who is equal parts scheming matriarch and dying tragedy immersed in a drug-addled puddle. It is never easy to embody a role known as a Meryl Streep movie character. Barbara Deering makes the audience forget Meryl Streep exists and does so in the first 30 minutes. Several aspects of this production will be considered when award season arrives this summer. Ms. Deering stands atop those aspects.
Another on the pedestal of performance excellence in "August: Osage County" is Ann Wilkinson Ellis in the role of Barbara Fordham. It becomes apparent part way through the story that someone needs to take control of the situation. Barbara chooses herself for the role and the result is some of the best stage combat seen on stage this year. Ms. Ellis and Ms. Deering battle for family supremacy in a fashion best described as feral. It's scary for a daughter to watch her mother descend into perdition. It is far scarier to wonder if the path is hereditary.
Jennifer Pippin-Montanez' performance in the role of Mattie Fae Aiken deserves mention. Mattie Fae is a nervous wreck, a condition only made worse by the irresponsible behavior of her grown son, whose development is forever stunted by the moniker "Little Charles Aiken." Ms. Pippin-Montanez's character is haunted by the same fears everyone connected to Violet Weston endures. Namely, that they are becoming one and the same. Mattie Fae is Violet's sister, and her treatment of her son mirrors Violet's maternal instincts far too closely.
To overlook Kalea Salvador's performance in the role of domestic caregiver Johna Monevato would be a critical error. Her excellent work bookends the show and supports the action nicely. Ms. Salvador is a talent to watch.
"August: Osage County" is an award magnet for its female characters, who chewed the scenery Sunday afternoon. That said, there were good performances by many of the male characters, as well. The role of Bill Fordham was played very well by Pete Benson. Fordham wants to be there for his wife because it is the right thing to do. It in no way assuages the torment he feels by being emotionally linked to one of his students back home. In a sit-com world, Bill and Barbara fall in love all over again. While there is love's dust lingering between the two, this is no sit-com!
Geoff Schmidt takes on the thankless role of Steve Heidebrecht in this show. Heidebrecht is engaged to Karen Weston, played splendidly by Carrie Morgan. His engagement doesn't stop Heidebrecht from plying his teenaged niece-to-be with weed and, ultimately, climbing atop her on the dining room table. Heidebrecht is pond scum, and Schmidt's performance lays that fact bare. Carrie Morgan's desperation as she clings to her fast-fading dreams of happiness with Schmidt's Heidebrecht was a pleasure to watch. Both Schmidt and Morgan are to be commended.
It has been said that Bainbridge Performing Arts could be a primer to the other theaters in the south and mid-Sound on how to do things the right way. Certainly, this show only burnishes the shine on that reputation. Everyone over the age of 14 or 15 should see this show. The language is pervasive and an aborted rape scene is too rough for kids younger than that. But "August: Osage County" is a masterpiece of community theater. Thunderous critical applause is due Kate Carruthers and this superb cast.
Tickets for "August: Osage County" are available from the Bainbridge Performing Arts ticketing page, or by calling 206-842-8569.