★★★★★ - Irresistible
Between heat and humidity, August in the Heartland can be brutal. Add in the secrets of a dysfunctional family during a forced reunion and brutality is exponentially compounded with each new person added to the mix. Such is the backdrop for Tracy Letts’ 2008 Pulitzer winning “August: Osage County.”
The three-and-half hour production now playing at A Public Fit (APF), under the astute and careful direction of Ann-Marie Pereth, fairly flies by. It’s at times intense, alternately funny, and consistently mesmerizing because of the incredible talent on the stage.
This cast, led by Gary Lunn (Beverly Weston) and Valerie Carpenter-Bernstein (Violet Weston) as the heads-of-family, dig their teeth into the depths of family dynamics.
Lunn’s Beverly, a one-time celebrated poet and admitted alcoholic, is steady and reasonable. Yet Lunn allows the underlying melancholy to bubble to the surface. In only one short scene he creates a character that nevertheless remains a haunting, integral figure for the remainder of the play. In his few moments, Lunn turns in such a solid performance that whenever Beverly is mentioned we connect.
Playing a sometimes-addled prescription drug addict, Carpenter-Bernstein brings the depth of betrayal bubbling over. Her Violet is frank to the point of insult, yet the humanity and love for her family is always apparent. Violet rules the roost, even through her most incoherent states, and Carpenter-Bernstein is not afraid to let loose; she rages, she screams, she whimpers. In a scene alone in Beverly’s office she allows us to see the sincere hurt and pain of loss.
As the couple’s daughters, each scarred in a different way, Tina Rice (Barbara), Jamie Carvelli-Pikrone (Ivy) and Jasmine Kojouri (Karen) turn in marvelously nuanced performances. Each character is an obvious product of the same household, the same toxic environment. Due to Rice’s careful portrayal of the defiant Barbara we understand that the parent we are most at war with is the parent we are most like. Her complete opposite, Carvelli-Pikrone provides a mousy Ivy with an undercurrent glimmer of confidence when out from under the familial roof. Kojouri’s Karen is the baby of the brood, spoiled and self-centered yet feeling underappreciated and ignored.
Barbara King plays Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister and brings this raucous, funny character to full-throttle life. King is over-the-top and subtle at the same time as she tries to keep the family secret buried. Tim Cummings brings an outward calm to her husband Charlie, but the turbulence underneath steadily builds to a stoic confrontation.
The remaining cast members add to the whole with believable performances. From Daniela Munafo’s pot-smoking, rebelling teenager, Jean, to Andrew Calvert’s down-trodden Little Charlie, Graciela Strahan’s live-in housekeeper, Johnna, and Adam Martinez’ Sheriff Deon Gilbeau the menagerie of the Central Plains weary and lonely are brought to life.
Again, APF pays very close attention to detail—with two glaring exceptions. The manner in which Munafo pretends to toke on pot yanks away the suspension of disbelief; she lights it, draws on it, and then immediately spews it out like a thin stream of water. In a burst of anger, Barbara lashes out at her daughter verbally and physically. But the slight tap to the cheek defies reality.
To design a three-story set in a single level venue, Eric A. Koger makes full use of the space and pulls it off brilliantly with several platforms, and furniture which moves and melds together to create different rooms. And, once again, Tim Sage brings the environment to a fully realized, three-dimensional world with his sound design.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future,” Barbara intones, “or we’d never get out of bed.” But, here’s a bit of fortune telling: You may miss a bit of shut-eye due to the length of this play, but you will certainly be glad you did.
Producers note: Due to the run time of this production, The Buzzz (a short, moderated Q&A with cast and crew) will not be held after evening performances.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov 17
Where: The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $25 - $30 (www.apublicfit.org)
Producer: A Public Fit; Artistic Director: Ann-Marie Pereth; Producing Director: Joseph D. Kucan; Director: Ann-Marie Pereth; Set Design: Eric A. Koger; Lighting Design: Ellen Bone; Sound Design: Tim Sage; Costume Design: Hailey Eakel; Production Stage Manager: Brandi Blackman