Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
August: Osage County
Beverly Weston, the aging family patriarch, is a former teacher who once published a highly acclaimed poetry collection, then descended into an alcoholic haze, never to write again. His wife, the fiery Violet, is an opioid addict. In their dark, airless, cluttered house, the windows blackened against the light, their marriage is a murky cease-fireliving under one roof but in no sense together.
The stasis suddenly shifts when Beverly goes missing. The emergency brings home the couple's middle-aged daughters Barb, Karen, and Ivy, accompanied by their own assortment of marital woes. Add to the mix Violet's sister Mattie Fae Aiken, along with her husband Charlie and their adult son, still called "Little Charlie," a chronic underachiever to whom Mattie Fae is unceasingly cruel.
The stifling house now seething with friction, family secrets begin to emerge. The play starts as a slow simmer, but catches fire in Act Two, and the revelations come thick and fast in the explosive third act, where you'll be holding on for dear life.
It's an exceeding well crafted play that justifies its three-hour running time. Combining the darkness of Eugene O'Neill with the humor of Tennessee Williams, August: Osage County will send you out the door with an overwhelming need to process the damage that one generation is capable of passing to another.
Director Ann-Marie Pereth ably captures the play's topsy turvy rhythms as it swerves between comic and tragic. The all-important dinner scenewhere the entire clan is gathered, family dynamics come to the fore, and the battle for power eruptsis especially well staged.
The entire ensemble is strong. Although in some cases the casting skews a bit young for the characters, Pereth makes the smart choice to rely on the performers' skills and our willing suspension of disbelief instead of attempting to age their appearance through make-up (a superficial gambit that rarely succeeds, even in a large theatre, much less the intimate space of this tiny venue).
The key antagonists are played by two capable stage veterans: Valerie Carpenter Bernstein as Violet; and Tina Rice as Barb. These demanding roles get the lion's share of stage time, and both actresses acquit themselves well. As Karen, the serial monogamist daughter who keeps marrying the wrong men, Jasmine Kojouri provides well-calibrated comic relief, and Brian David Sloan is effortlessly convincing as the latest of her dubious choices. As the demeaned Little Charlie, Andrew Calvert proves once again to be a true chameleon. Gary Lunn is wonderfully natural as Beverly, although the character's alcohol-induced slurring tends to muffle his speech.
In the crucial role of Mattie Fae, Barbara King is a revelation. Rarely does an actress (or actor) inhabit a role so convincingly. It's as though Mattie Fae really exists, and she simply walks onto the stage from Maryland Parkway (since Mattie Fae would surely avoid East Fremont Street). This makes her cruelty to Little Charlie all the more heartbreaking.
In its Broadway incarnation, August: Osage County had a set spanning a full three stories, with a large staircase from the Westons' living areas to the bedrooms upstairs. Reconceiving that towering design for A Public Fit's single-story black box venue must have been a formidable task, but scenic designer Eric A. Koger makes it work, with a creative design that relies on shorter elevations as well as clusters of furnishings suspended in mid-air.
Don't be put off by the show's running time. It's a roller-coaster of a production, and you will need the two intermissions just to catch your breath (and perhaps a bit of refreshment in the newly renovated lobby).
August: Osage County runs through November 17, 2019, at The Usual Place, 100 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas NV. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets (general admission $30; seniors and students $25) and further information, go to www.apublicfit.org.