If life itself is a dark comedy, White Rock Players Club’s latest production – August: Osage County, opening April 13 at Coast Capital Playhouse – holds up a perfect mirror to it.
Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play – source material for the popular movie adaptation with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts – may be the ultimate version of just about every playwright’s most reliable trope, the family reunion under duress.
In this powerful, savagely witty limning of an upper middle class family in Oklahoma, all the festering conflicts and poisons are there just under the surface, just like an unhealed wound. And although you know it won’t make it any better, somehow you just have to peel back the band-aid to look…
The Weston clan – headed by Beverley (Fred Partridge), a one-time world-class poet and full-time alcoholic, and Violet (Cindy Peterson Good), a cynical, painkiller-addicted matriarch whose literally cancerous mouth spits vitriol and insults like machine gun bullets – are all intelligent, and, in their own ways, sensitive people.
But they seem incapable of letting anything go, whether its wandering spouses, personal demons, bitter memories, long-term resentments or secret love affairs – and that incapacity results in them tearing each other to shreds even as they gather to support one another in a time of crisis (the unexpected disappearance of Beverley).
Directed by former Players Club artistic director Ryan Mooney, it’s a play that exposes all kinds of dark secrets of past and present, including along the way, such less-than-obvious laugh-getters as drug abuse, marital infidelity, incest – even the molestation of a 14-year-old granddaughter.
But it’s clear that Letts wants us to think as well as laugh, and doesn’t shrink from shining a light on a proclivity for denial that is a failing of – more than just one family – an entire society.
The other characters offer the full gamut of contemporary woes.
There’s eldest Weston daughter, Barbara Fordham (Alaina Holland), for instance, who’s worried about her smart-mouthed, pot-smoking daughter Jean (Alina Quarin) even as she covers up the disintegration of her marriage to university professor Bill (Andrew Wood).
There’s the next eldest daughter, Ivy (Katherine Morris), beneath whose spinster librarian surface stir unsuspected passions, and her younger sister, Mattie Fae, who takes out her frustrations on her unemployed son ‘Little’ Charles (Cale Walde) much to the dismay of her husband, Charlie (Pat McDermott).
And there’s also the youngest of the daughters, Karen (Samantha Silver), who returns to the family home with a head full of wedding plans, unaware that her successful fiancée Steve (Chris Connor) is a creep whose business dealings and personal conduct can’t bear close scrutiny.
Add in newly-employed, empathetic Cheyenne housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Cassidy H), who provides a protective influence among the chaos, and Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Barbara’s former boyfriend, who is able to shed light on Beverley’s absence, and you have a house bursting at the seams with dramatic potential.
Playgoers should note that the play hews to an old-fashioned three-act structure unfamiliar to modern audiences – necessitating a 7:30 p.m. curtain, rather than the usual 8 p.m.
But as theatre administrator Daina Carmichael notes in a publicity release, each act is shorter than the average one-act play.
“With a 7:30 p.m. start, audiences should be on their way by 10 p.m. nightly,” she says.
She also notes that the cast have multiple CTC and Theatre BC awards and nominations among them – quoting Mooney as saying it’s probably one of the strongest casts he’s worked with on the White Rock stage.
August: Osage County is produced by Colleen McGoff-Dean, with costumes by Diane Grant Booth and set design and props, respectively, by Players Club stalwarts Andrea Olund and Naomi Mitchell.
The show, which runs until April 28, Wednesdays to Saturdays with a 2:30 p.m. matinée Sundays, is presented with a warning of adult themes and language.
Tickets ($22, $19 students and seniors, $10 Wednesdays) are available at the Coast Capital Playhouse box office (Wednesday to Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.) at 1532 Johnston Rd. or through www.whiterockplayers.ca