‘August: Osage County’ finds humor in tough subject

From left are Leah Haes ’16 as Karen Weston, Amber Boyer ’17 as Barbara Weston, Shannon McCarthy ’16 as Ivy Weston and Tristin Burke ’17 as Violet Weston.
From left are Leah Haes ’16 as Karen Weston, Amber Boyer ’17 as Barbara Weston, Shannon McCarthy ’16 as Ivy Weston and Tristin Burke ’17 as Violet Weston.

Sweet Briar Theatre and the Performing Arts Division will present “August: Osage County” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25-27 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in Murchison Lane Auditorium at the Babcock Fine Arts Center.

For anybody who’s seen the 2014 film version, Bill Kershner, director of Sweet Briar’s theater program and the production, has this assurance: Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play is “a lot funnier than the movie.”

It’s not easy subject matter, Kershner concedes, but it’s important.

“It explores both the supportive nature of family and how that’s blown apart by people with addiction problems,” he said, “but it does it in a very funny way.”

When Beverly Weston, an admitted alcoholic and patriarch of a dysfunctional family (portrayed by Sweet Briar Professor John Gould), disappears, his daughters and in-laws converge on their three-story home in rural Oklahoma. His wife, Violet, who’s being treated for cancer and is addicted to prescription drugs, is sharp-tongued and cruel to the people in her life.

“The family is struggling with the love they have for their mother versus falling into co-dependency with her,” Kershner says.

Eventually, Beverly is discovered dead, likely of suicide. As the search and subsequent funeral play out, family secrets are revealed in the interaction among the grown daughters and Violet’s sister, her husband, Charlie, and son, Little Charles.

Kershner is thrilled with the cast he has assembled, which includes local actors Matt Bowyer, Graham Wiatt, Paul Stober and David Dover.

“There’s some really fine acting in this production, including John Gould,” Kershner said. “It’s been exciting to work on.”

Tristin Burke ’17 as Violet is “getting that whole ‘it’s all about me and my needs’ that some addicts can fall into,” he said.

Amber Boyer ’17 as Barbara Fordham is the oldest daughter weighted by duty and responsibility, while Shannon McCarthy ’16 plays Ivy, the unappreciated middle daughter who’s sacrificed her happiness to stay in Oklahoma near their parents. Senior Leah Haes’ Karen, the youngest sister, tries to please everyone while going on about her wedding plans with her sleazy fiancé. Each gets her character, Kershner says.

Rounding out the cast are Milea Webb ’17 as Barbara’s daughter, Jean; Ashlynn Watson ’16 as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae Aiken; and Emelie Wurster ’17 as the housekeeper, Johnna Monevata.

Kershner also is enthusiastic about Katie Torretti’s set design, which she undertook for her senior project. It’s built on several levels to recreate the Weston home, complete with a front porch and the setting for “what has got to be the funniest and most horrifying family dining room scene ever,” Kershner said.

Admission for the Feb. 25 performance is free for all students and teachers. For all other performances, admission for non-SBC patrons is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for non-SBC students, and free for children younger than 12 and for SBC community members. Please note, this play contains profanity and may not be suitable for young children. Parents should use discretion.

Tickets go on sale through the box office Feb. 15 via phone at (434) 381-6120 or email at boxoffice@sbc.edu. To purchase or reserve tickets now by credit card, click here or visit brownpapertickets.com.