Windsor Jesters’ ‘August Osage County’ Tackles Heavy Drama With Humor

August Osage County

Credit: Courtesy of Windsor Jesters

That can’t be the end of the story. Oh, but it is in the very long emotional roller coaster that is “August Osage County” presented by the Windsor Jesters.

It’s a line spoken by Barbara Fordham (Virginia Wolf) after her drug-addled, outspoken and seemingly maniacal mother, Violet Weston (Rosemarie Beskind) tells a story that ends abruptly and harshly. And it’s fitting with the play, which ends on a note of turmoil without any real resolution or happy ending and contains many stories that don’t end neatly and aren’t necessarily pretty.

There is a lot of gray area in this play in terms of any moral center and the characters’ actions are sometimes questionable and inexplicable.

“August Osage County” is not for the faint of heart, but you also have to take it with a sense of humor. In the darkness and despair of the story, there is also light and hope and dry comedy that comes from the ridiculousness of what some of the characters say and do.

In fact, the humor is why director Chris Bushey chose the play. He said it has so many funny moments and that he considers it a comedy. If you don’t look at it through that paradigm though, it can come across as rather depressing. That is one main difference actress Virginia Wolf said there is between the play and the Oscar-recognized film by the same name. She said the movie takes out the comedy that the play has written into the script. Ah, live theater.

There are some very heavy topics addressed in the show. There’s a suicide, incest, presumed sexual molestation of a minor that happens in the dark, there are marital problems with one couple on the brink of divorce, there is drug use and there’s domestic violence. You have to recognize the humor not to be bogged down by it all.

The play starts out with a very drawn out monologue from Bill Mullen as Beverly Weston, the patriarch of the Oklahoma family in the story, as he spews drunken ramblings and quotes T.S. Eliot in a retrospective way to a silent, stone-faced prospective housekeeper, Johnna Monevata (Anna Neild) of native American decent. Despite consuming the seemingly eternal opening scene with his words, Mullen’s mannerisms and voice are compelling and convincing in contrast to the seemingly emotionless and flat Johnna. He sets the scene for us, talking about his drinking and his wife’s recreational use of pills.

That’s the last time we see Mullen, but his character remains very crucial to the plot as he goes missing and the sheriff (Mark Proulx) says he is a presumed suicide. That brings back a lot of the family that has moved away home, initially to help look for him and then for his funeral and to help get things back in order.

Because once Beverly’s gone, the focus is on Violet and what to do about her pill addiction. Beskind is phenomenal in the role, which requires a very steep emotional arch and has a lot of layers. Beskind showed us all shades of Violet, from a sweet elderly mother to someone with a blunt, humorous perspective on life to a raging, belligerent drug addict experiencing highs and lows.

“August Osage County” depicts a very dysfunctional family that is brought together and in some way grows by what they learn from each other. But the wounds of the characters are very deep and their healing scars are often abruptly torn apart again. It shows life in the rawest form.

Wolf, as Barbara, has a way of conveying a range of emotions in a very natural and genuine way. One of the most powerful scenes is when a tense scuffle breaks out between her and Violet (Beskind) and she very firmly tells her “I’m in charge now.”

The play is very long and is a rare three acts with two intermissions, running at least three hours. While compelling in dialogue and character, Act I drags on as the longest. Act II is more captivating because of its brevity and because action between the characters is added. Act III kind of sets the characters back on their own paths and wraps up some of the story lines, but doesn’t tie them up with a bow, leaving what happens next open to interpretation.

Phil Godeck does a good job at conveying the awkward tension between his character, Bill Fordham and his wife, Barbara as they struggle with marital troubles. He’s able to show the contrast of trying to be a good man and the level-headed one as he fights with the growing distance between him and his wife. The chemistry is strongest between him and Wolf in the scenes where they are arguing.

Jacqueline Lasry, the youngest actress in the show, is able to tackle very dark moments with a combination of maturity and innocence and has an easy-going way about her that depicts the ultimate teenager.

Marisa Clement is the one we’re routing for as Violet’s dutiful daughter, Ivy. She’s the one who stayed home to take care of her mother, yet she seems to go unappreciated and is often criticized. Clement’s facial expressions convey exactly how much her character struggles with those moments, yet tries to suppress her emotions to keep the peace. She has a deep secret that will leave you questioning your assessment of what is right romantically in this day and age. You’ll question it even more with the twist.

Suzanne Robertson is the brightest of the bunch as Karen, the sister who lives in Florida and is newly engaged and bubbling with happiness and gab.

Enrico DiGiacomo brings out the youthful, immature side of his character and paired well with both the older and younger actors. He and Robertson bring a lighter and more naive contrast to many of the other characters.

Bruce Larsen, as Charlie Aiken, is able to play both a loving father standing up for his son, Little Charles Aiken when his wife, Mattie Fae (Helen Malinka), Violet’s sister, is hard on him and a single-minded button pusher on the topic of eating meat, or fear. Malinka comes across as harsh as Mattie Fae in the way she treats her son, but there’s a reason for that that we learn later.

Logan Lopez is another character you feel very badly for as Little Charles, a 37-year-old under his parents’ thumbs who supposedly watches TV all day. He embodies this in every movement from his shaking to his somber expressions to his soft-spoken apologies.

One of the only purely happy moments in the play is when we get to hear Lopez play the guitar and sing for Ivy. It’s the only time he smiles and the two actors together bring out their characters’ single strand of happiness and hope.

While Johnna is referred to as “the Indian” by Violet and has a quiet observer role most of the show, she really comes through for the family, making them dinner, saving Jean in a disturbing moment and coming to Violet’s aid when everything truly comes crashing down on her in the end. It’s the first time Violet actually calls her Johnna.

Mark Proulx is adorable, innocent and kind-hearted as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau.

The play leaves you with a lot of questions. Some of the answers lie with Violet, who is more all-knowing and with it than she leads on. But that’s the beautiful thing about the play. It has a lot of layers and makes you think and doesn’t always give you the answer. You don’t always get the answer in life.

Now that’s the end of my story. So now you still have two more chances this weekend to go see this one. The play is running at the senior center Friday and Saturday night.

 

 

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