Family drama takes a turn for the darkly comic in the Shawnigan Players’ outstanding production of August: Osage County, which opened Wednesday, March 2 at the Duncan Showroom.
The play by Tracy Letts tells the hilarious and tragic story of the Weston family as it copes with addiction, marital discord and loss, with superb acting and stage direction coming alive in the Duncan Showroom’s intimate “in the round” layout.
“I am not hooked, I am in pain,” the family matriarch Violet (Jan Ovans) tells her daughters as she pops high-powered painkillers.
The Weston daughters Ivy (Breann Landry), Karen (Kimberley Phillips) and Barbara (Elissa Barron) have come home to Oklahoma to visit Violet after her husband and their father Beverly (Bob Norris), goes missing. A renowned poet with a troubled past and drinking problem, the play opens with Beverly hiring Native American maid Johnna Monevato (Leanne Kato), who comes to serve as an anchor to the show and counterpoint to the hysterics of Violet and Barbara.
“I can’t perpetuate these myths of family and sisterhood any more,” Ivy says at one point in despair.
Separation, new love and forbidden love face the three Weston daughters, as well as a sexual abuse situation that develops between Barbara’s teenage daughter Jean (Gabrielle Marcolin) and Karen’s 30-something fiancée Steve (Matt Williams).
Fans may recognize the name August: Osage County from the 2013 movie of the same name starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, with a screenplay also written by Letts, but the stage version is even more raw than the film, putting highly personal, emotional, hilarious and unpredictable situations right in front of the audience. It feels like you’re watching a family try to resolve years of tension in a big living room brawl.
The sarcastic one-liners flow and the awkwardness abounds as events unfold, with incredibly good performances from all in the 14-member cast and excellent direction by Alex Gallacher. Situations verge sharply from laugh-out-loud, such as when Karen is manically telling Barbara about how in love she is not realizing Barbara is right in the process of a deeply painful separation from her husband, or when relative Charlie Aiken (Gord Levin) pretends to be impressed by Jean’s opposition to eating meat which she says contains the unhealthy fear of an animal before slaughter.
“Ahhggg, ahhggg,” he says, standing and clutching his throat at the dinner table as the family rushes to help and asks what’s wrong.
“I just had me a big ol’ bite of fear!” Charlie says, as the whole family (other than Jean) erupts in laughter.
Despite its often very dark subject matter there is an undertone of humour and ridiculous, jarring situations through the whole play that had the audience chuckling and laughing about three-quarters of the time. The play not only tackles a fractured family trying to put the pieces back together again, but provides some deeper commentary on the state of society today and how people interact, including a wry dig at materialism and a look at how individuals often instinctively play off psychological weaknesses to keep negative emotional trauma alive and continuing for themselves and others.
Southern accents were very well done by the Shawnigan Players, being very believable, with complex, witty, angry and sarcastic lines delivered effortlessly, particularly by leads Violet (slurred half the time to portray her drugged state) and Barbara.
The three-hour runtime of the play goes by in a flash, as the plot and characters draw the audience in and the conclusion approaches. There are plenty of f-words dropped in the course of August: Osage County, but the one that packs the strongest emotional punch — for better or for worse — is “family.”
There’s still a chance to see August: Osage County as it continues to run March 9 to 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Duncan Showroom. Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. For tickets call the Duncan Showroom at 250-748-7246 or buy them at Ten Old Books in Duncan and Mason’s Store in Shawnigan Lake. You may also purchase tickets online by emailing email@example.com or visiting www.duncanshowroom.com. Caution: there is profanity and coarse language throughout the play as well as depictions of drug use.