Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Singin' the Plains

Sizzling drama at BTG
by Christopher Key

One of the characters in August: Osage County describes life in Northern Oklahoma: “This is the Plains: a state of mind, right, some spiritual affliction, like the Blues.”  Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer prize-winning play isn’t a musical, but you can almost hear the high, lonesome sound of Woodie Guthrie weaving through the production.

Credit Bellingham Theatre Guild director Marla Bronstein for rescuing this brilliant play from the typically glamorized Hollywood movie of 2013.  She casts real people in the roles, giving it an authenticity that Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Benedict Cumberbatch can only dream about.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Kathy Murray delivers a devastating performance as the pill-popping, potty-mouthed matriarch of the Weston clan.  Violet puts the funk in dysfunctional by playing Eric Clapton on the stereo at every opportunity.  She also demonstrates astounding range by playing a character that is totally opposite to type.  Texas, hell.  Don’t mess with Murray.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Violet’s oldest daughter Barbara is given a rousing ride by the dynamic Deb Currier.  When Mom goes out where the buses don’t run, Barbara tries to take charge and good luck with that.  Trying to run the Weston family is like trying to herd cats.  Mean, nasty cats.  Currier’s teaching schedule precludes her from being in many shows, but she’s a pleasure to watch when she gets her teeth into a role.

Photo credit - David Cohn

I’ve had a thing or three to say about Joan Prinz over the years and I’m sticking with all of it.  She plays Violet’s sister Mattie Fae with a tongue that is sharpened on both sides.  You think you’ve seen the Mom From Hell?  Not until you’ve seen Prinz kick it into gear.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Middle children are supposed to be peacemakers, engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the elder and younger sibs.  Carol Makela plays Ivy with an understated grace that is tough to come by in this loud family.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Karen is the baby of the three sisters and Kari Severns captures her overweening narcissism with an accuracy that will make you grind your teeth.

As you might expect in such a family, the next generation is, as my Grandma would say, “a piece of work.”  Alex Farkas is brilliant as Barbara’s pot-smoking, vegan daughter who has a mouth on her that could cut titanium.

Shannon Jung doesn’t get many lines as Indian (the Native American kind) housekeeper Johnna, but she owns some of the most touching moments in the play.

There are some magnificent male actors in this show, like Bob Simmons, Sean Walbeck, Michael O’Neal, Lucas Naylor, Robert Muzzy and Mark Polin.  But let’s face it, guys, this one belongs to the women.

OK, it belongs to the techies, as well.  David Cohn has designed a superb set that captures a time and place that is rapidly disappearing.  Master Carpenter Superjoe and his crew worked overtime to build this one.  Lighting designer extraordinaire Ryan Goelzenleuchter obviously has far too much fun herding photons and should sign this one on the bottom right corner.

The language in this show is as authentic as it gets, meaning it’s inappropriate for anyone under 14 and anyone who objects to carpet f-bombing.  Thematic material is also R-rated.

Really top-notch drama will make you uncomfortable, so be prepared to squirm even though the histrionics are tempered by lots of extremely black comedy.  Bottom line: this is one of the best-directed and best-acted shows you will ever see at the BTG and you’d best snag your tickets early.

August: Osage County runs April 22 – May 8 at the H Street playhouse.  The box office is open 1 – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.  Call (360) 733-1811 or order online at the BTG site.

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