The Limelight Theatre in St. Augustine has staged Tracy Letts’ dark comedy (a Pulitzer and Tony-winner), a portrait of Americana that captures the quarrelsome Weston clan who have gathered to pay their last respects to one of their own—and disrespects to each other. According to Mr. Letts, it is based on family history. His grandfather committed suicide when Letts was 10 years old.
August: Osage County begins with a scene that almost seems out of context with the rest of the show: Alcoholic patriarch Beverly (Rich Nowell) quotes T.S. Eliot in the opening segment ae he is hiring a caretaker, a silent yet strong young Native American named Johnna (Angela Gonzalez), to assist Violet, his ailing spouse, convincingly played by Andrea McCook. “I drink, and my wife takes pills. That’s the bargain we struck.” There is no inkling that he is hiring Johnna to handle the bills and make sure Violet gets to appointments because he will not be there at all.
The story itself is less about the grandfather going missing and ultimately being deemed suicide at the beginning of the show than the fallout of a dysfunctional family having to deal with not only personal issues but the illness and addictions of the mother. Matriarch Violet faces off with her eldest, Barbara, also well-played by Cathy O’Brien. The verbal abuse spews, and no swearing is spared. Violet’s dope-induced mouth makes it difficult to feel sorry for her having cancer (of the mouth, both physically and verbally).
Violet’s sister Mattie Faye (Teresa Harris) seems the most maternal, while her husband Charlie (Bert Keirstead) is understandably cowed by the female energy. Emily Layt plays Ivy, the overlooked middle sister who stayed in Oklahoma and has been the main caretaker for the aging parents, and Jessica Racaniello plays Karen, an almost raunchy free spirit who flits from one beau to another. Rounding out the female cast is Kyler Unsworth, who plays Barbara’s14-year-old daughter, Jean. In overshadowed roles are the men: Jan Peter Buksar as Barbara’s unfaithful husband, Bill; Joseph Stearman as Karen’s current sleaze, Steve; and Austin Kelley as cousin Little Charles.
Each character in this ensemble piece has a moment to shine, although it’s more about the women than the men. The piece, overall, is very wordy, and this cast truly works together to make the banter feel very natural. The dining room scene, in particular, has repartee flying so fast, that it feels like each character is truly living in the moment.
As the revelations pile up – including incest, child molestation, and mistaken paternity – August: Osage County boils down to Violet and Barbara, the other two sisters already having decided to lead their own lives. While Violet is obviously doomed to repeat past mistakes, Barbara is finally set free,
With the small stage having to accommodate numerous rooms, the set design was very well done. A small platform area accommodated one bedroom, with a window nook depicting Johnna’s quarters. Downstairs, illusionary walls separated Beverly’s office, the living room, and the dining room, with all actors taking pains to maintain the illusionary doorways.
August: Osage County is at the Limelight (11 Old Mission Avenue, St. Augustine, FL 32084) through March 20th, 2022, with performances at 7:30 p.m. It is three acts with two, 10-minute intermissions. There are themes of suicide, incest, alcoholism, drug abuse, verbal abuse, sexuality, and sex with a minor, making this not appropriate for children. Check their website at https//limelight-theatre.org/box-office/ or call 904-825-1164 for show dates and ticket prices. Masks are encouraged.
By Cessy Newmon