Michele Rideout (Ivy Weston): “The play feels awful familiar”

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Michele Rideout

I first read “August: Osage County” two years ago, and I immediately wanted to do it. It feels very much like a classic, a slice of literary Americana. A part of me wants to say my own family is nowhere near as dysfunctional as this one. But the truth is, the play feels awful familiar, even if not on so grand a scale, and that draw is there. I think Utah audiences are ready for this story, with all its beautifully, tragic, broken bits of the unfulfilled promise that is the American Dream.

Ivy Weston is the middle daughter of Beverly and Violet, neither of which will be winning Parent-of-the-Year anytime soon. At 44 years old, this quiet, college-educated woman remains unmarried, and as far as the world knows, unattached. She has been left with the sole responsibility of caring for her father, a quiet alcoholic, and her mother, addicted to a variety of pills and with a tongue that could flay open even the toughest of skin.

Ivy’s sisters, Barbara — a few years older, married with a teenage daughter — and Karen — younger and less grounded — have both long ago moved away from small-town Pawhuska to pursue bigger and better things in Anywhere But These GD Plains, USA. Ivy struggles with not begrudging them their freedom, their escape, but it’s been very hard on her to be left as the sole care-giver to their toxic parents. I don’t think Ivy’s reasons for staying close to home rather than leaving are all that complex; I think like a lot of us, she’s simply allowed herself to unwittingly fall into the trap of familial loyalty — not so much a loyalty to each other as family members who love one another. But a loyalty to the roles that life casts us in; and her case, it’s as the long-suffering daughter in a highly dysfunctional family.

Ivy has long played this part of the devoted daughter, managing to ever and always exude a calm and patient exterior, but this exterior is a facade that perfectly conceals her true nature: a very passionate woman who longs for something more; a woman with a secret. Some very key, critical life-changing things happen to Ivy in the two years prior to when the action in this play begins, and she’s begun to grow cynical, but ever hopeful. A strange combination on the surface, but I can really relate to that aspect of Ivy on a personal level.  It’s difficult but she tries very hard to fight feeling bitterness over being “stuck.”

The dynamics of the relationship Violet and Ivy share are very interesting to me. On the surface they seem so different, for example Violet cares much about appearances, Ivy does not. Violet is verbose and loudly opinionated, Ivy is the exact opposite. But when we dig deeper and go below the surface of the soil this relationship is planted in, we find striking similarities.

At one point, Ivy tells her sisters that their relationship is a matter of genetic circumstance, and that the idea of “family” is a myth — nothing more. But when you look at certain traits, shared by Ivy and Violet, when you look at the moments where love and compassion is clearly present, you get the sense that playwright Tracy Letts is trying to tell us something very pointed about familial bonds.

Violet says at the end of the play that Ivy is not strong like her and Barbara, but again as we look at Ivy and her actions, we see that is wrong. She is strong in a way very much like Violet. Even the character names, Violet and Ivy, are a hint at a deeper connection between this mother/daughter duo.

Even before her father’s passing, Ivy’s begun to consider that life could be different, but with her father, Beverly, hiring a woman to care for Violet and the home before his suicide is a kind of subconscious permission slip, and she begins to truly believe that a different life is actually possible for her; that she can escape her miserable existence, and in a different place she can be a different person, with the man she loves by her side. She’s fighting for that. A different life.

Michele has appeared locally in “Six Degrees of Separation,” “33 Variations,” and “Steel Magnolias.” She has been actively involved in local theater for over a decade and has worked in several capacities, including not only acting, designing, and directing, but she also served as the executive producer for a local community theater before stepping down to found Silver Summit Theatre Company. She is the artistic director and acting chair for SSTC. Other interests include film, writing, LOLCats, finger painting, and wasting time on the Internet.