Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

August: Osage County
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of All My Sons and Wedding Band

Ellen McLaughlin and Cast
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
If theatre is supposed to make me a better person, then why do I still suck? (Sorry, that's just a rhetorical question.) But I guess a lot of theatre people like me hang on to their family grievances and hone that lifelong pain to a killing edge. "To become better storytellers," we tell ourselves, despite the inevitable side effects of bitterness and self-pity. But it works like a charm for the actors populating the shattered family in the funny, mad, shocking and sad August: Osage County, now at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Of course, my own relations aren't anywhere near as entertaining as the people up on stage in this three-act comedy. And I don't have its playwright, Tracy Letts (who won a Pulitzer Prize for this script), around to help me figure out my own mess. But I do feel a lot better for having seen his uproarious three and a half-hour long story, with two perfectly spaced intermissions. (At the first interval I ran out to my car and grabbed some ibuprofen for the long sit–pain pills are, after all, a recurring theme in this funny, thunderous show.) The family fights here are pointed and titanic, and the whole smorgasbord of relationships is beautifully, operatically, directed by Amelia Acosta Powell.

August: Osage County debuted at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, in June of 2007. It moved to Broadway in December of that same year, also the year in which the story is set. At The Rep, Ellen McLaughlin is perfectly cast as the fierce, showdown-minded matriarch of the story, which is laid about sixty miles northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her Violet Weston, mother of three grown daughters, first seems badly broken by oral cancer, and staggers shockingly in her physical frame and cognitive formulation from all the painkillers clouding her mind. Yet she's towering, even in her addled erraticism. And she refuses to go gentle into that good night, once she does regain her speech and faculties.

In the middle of her own Venn diagram of agony and medication and old age, Violet is just as likely to rip into anyone close by at a moment's notice, careening around the stage like a hyperactive Mary Tyrone of the Plains. She has an elegant wrath that can be as bad as any space monster you've ever seen in the movies. And it's breathtaking and tragic all at once. I'd probably be a little disappointed if Ms. McLaughlin actually did have a happy childhood.

The show begins with the longtime dean of St. Louis actors, Joneal Joplin, as Violet's husband, quoting from "The Hollow Men" by St. Louis-born T.S. Eliot: "Life is very long." And Mr. Joplin is still flawless as Beverly Weston. I first saw him on this same stage about fifty years ago when I was a teenager. This time he's a poet dwarfed by his early success, and quoting a lot of endgame literature to the new in-home eldercare caregiver. Kindly, mystical Shyla Lefner plays Johnna, a daughter of the Cheyenne nation. Framed by her gentle presence, the Weston family almost seems dogged by some Native American curse against all of us European invaders (the Westons are actually of Irish stock).

But it's all very funny, in a gasp-inducing way. And nearly every one of these characters could be the star of their own play. In a piece of this length, they practically are the stars of their own plays. But they overlap so much, like the greatest soap opera ever told, until it's one huge splashy riot.

All three Weston daughters have grown up and moved out, two of them far away, until they are called back home in a family emergency. It's all very personal and emotionally detailed, with Henny Russell as oldest daughter Barbara, smashing through mid-life crises like an icebreaker in the Arctic Circle, along with her estranged husband Bill (Michael James Reed) and a very independent teenaged daughter, Jean (Isa Venere). Barbara's "boomer" screed against her own "greatest generation" parents is wickedly delightful.

Ivy Weston (Claire Karpen) is the middle child who gets run over by everyone else here, possessing a secret that becomes one of the story's big final problems. And Yvonne Woods plays the funny, vaguely dodgy youngest daughter, Karen, who doesn't appear till act three, swept in from glittering Miami. Brian Slaten (great in the Rep's recent Gruesome Playground Injuries) is Karen's fiancé Steve, the Florida man who provides unexpected new ways to shock and appall us late in the game.

Astrid Van Wieren is fantastic as Violet's explosive sister Mattie Fae. And the now-officially-iconic Alan Knoll does his best to keep her under control, as Mattie Fae's husband Charlie, despite her regular eruptions. Endearing Sean Wiberg plays their misfit son Little Charles. And David Wassilak nicely rounds out the cast as drawling Sheriff Gilbeau, with links to the Westons from long ago.

Stand up and cheer for August: Osage County!

August: Osage County runs through April 7, 2024, at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit

Beverly Weston: Joneal Joplin*
Ivy Weston: Claire Karpen*
Charlie Aiken: Alan Knoll*
Johnna Monevata: Shyla Lefner*
Violet Weston: Ellen McLaughlin*
Bill Fordham: Michael James Reed*
Barbara Fordham: Henny Russell*
Steve Heidebrecht: Brian Slaten*
Jean Fordham: Isa Venere
Sheriff Deon Gilbeau
Little Charles Aiken: Sean Wiberg*
Mattie Fae Aiken: Astrid Van Wieren*
Karen Weston: Yvonne Woods*

Production Staff:
Director: Amelia Acosta Powell
Costume Designer: Sonia Álvarez
Lighting Designer: Xavier Pierce
Sound Designer: Amanda Werre
Composer: Avi Amon
Intimacy Direction: Will Bonfiglio, Rachel Tibbetts
Fight Director: Michael Pierce
Wig Designer: Alison Hora
Casting: JZ Casting
Assistant Scenic Designer: Lindsay Mummert
Assistant Costume Designer: Catherine Adams
Production Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis*
Production Assistant: Kentrell Jamison
Webster Assistant Director: Avery Harrison

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association

Additional Production Staff:
Managing Director: Danny Williams
Associate Artistic Director: Becks Redman
Associate Artistic Director: Reggie D. White
Artistic Associate: Mathew Cox
General Manager: Dan Schultz
Box Office Manager: Kristy Kannapell
Director of Production: Phil Baranski
Production Associate: Taijha Silas
Technical Director: Michael Strickland
Properties Manager: Eric William Barnes
Interim Costume Shop Manager: Rachel Seabaugh
Mainstage Head Electrician: Connor Meers
Electrician: Casey Morris III
Master Sound Engineer: Joshua Riggs
Sound Engineer: Sean Wilhite