BY PATRICIA DUFF
Whidbey Art Source editor
When playwright Tracy Letts first gave what would become his Pulitzer Prize winning play “August: Osage County” to the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, he included a note.
“I could never come up with a title as brilliant as ‘August: Osage County.’ Mr. Howard Starks, gentleman, teacher, poet, genius, mentor, friend, created that title for an extraordinary poem that is one of the inspirations for my play,” Letts wrote.
no rain in three weeks, no real breeze all day.
In the dim room,
the blinds grimly endure the deadly light,
protecting the machined air,
as the watchers watch the old lady die.
This excerpt from Starks’ poem reflects the suffocating mood of Letts’ tour de force black comedy, which made its debut in 2007 and then headed to Broadway, where it won five Tony Awards in 2008, including one for Best Play.
It’s an epic work based on three generations of a spectacularly dysfunctional Oklahoma family, reminiscent of those equally heralded classic, dark, American works that were also based on the subject of family, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
Ned Farley directs OutCast Production‘s “August: Osage County” at the Black Box Theater in Langley, which opens Friday, Sept. 14. The ensemble of 13 characters in the play are what Farley calls contemporary Oklahoma “plains” folk; down-to-earth types.
Except that several of them are high through most of this boxing match.
Alcoholic dad Beverly, once a famous poet, has mysteriously disappeared, leaving his drug-addled wife, the sharp-tongued Violet who is suffering from mouth cancer, to rail against the world and provoke anyone in her path. The targets of her ugly rants are her daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen, and their families, who have come back to the family’s large Oklahoma home to await news of Beverly’s whereabouts and try to keep their mother clean.
Farley said, for him, these multi-dimensional characters reflect the highs and lows of life. Letts, he said, has left off stereotyping and has plunged his pen deep into the complexity of families, as he gradually brings the reality of the Weston family’s dark past painfully back into the light.
“There is no character that is “all good” or “all bad,” Farley said, “rather what an audience might, and hopefully will experience, is a little piece of themselves, ourselves in the characters on stage. This play is biting in its humor; gut-wrenching in its pathos. It is about life, about loss, about family, about connection and disconnection,” Farley said.
The cast includes K. Sandy O’Brien, Gail Liston, Jim Scullin, Savannah True Randall, Anastasia Brencick, Katie Woodzick, Nancy Pfeiffer, Tim O’Brien, Larry Woolworth, Lars Larson, Mona Newbauer, Brian Plebanek and Paul Mathews.
Set design is by Woolworth, lighting by Alex Wren, sound by Jeff Fisher, costumes by Marlene Nakamura, set construction by Larson and Glenn Jones, and props by Hal and Marilee Seligson.
“August: Osage County” runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 14 to 29; and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 16 and 23.
The Black Box Theater at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds is at 819 Camano Ave. in Langley.
Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. Seats are limited. It’s recommended to buy tickets in advance.