Utah Theater Bloggers: ‘August: Osage County’ Is Gripping Theater

August 19, 2014 by 

When their father goes missing, the three Weston sisters gather to the family home in rural Osage County, Oklahoma, to help their mother pick up the pieces of her life.  While a little drama is normal at any family reunion, a gathering of the Weston family is like a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving on narcotics, and not just because the family matriarch is hooked on prescription narcotics. Each family member brings her own secrets and regrets, and coming home just entangles present worries with those they’d hoped to leave behind.

Teresa Sanderson as Violet. Photo by Alex Weisman, IceWolf Photography.

Teresa Sanderson as Violet

Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning script develops each relationship thoroughly, and the very talented cast brought the characters to life so that each of their experiences felt real and relatable. With a large family of characters and relationships to explore, I was especially impressed by the way director Mark Fossen kept this production’s forward momentum had me hanging on for each new development.

The action is largely carried by matriarch Violet Weston, portrayed magnetically by Teresa Sanderson. Generally clad in a loose, woebegone nightgown (costumes by Nancy Susan Cannon), Sanderson’s energy and emotional agility made it hard for me to take my eyes off her when she was on stage. Sanderson’s wild energy contrasted humorously with the mild-mannered performance of Tamara Howell, who played Mrs. Weston’s housekeeper.

Each of the Weston sisters gave strong performances. Eldest daughter Barbara (played by April Fossen) and her husband Bill (played by Daniel Beecher) return home with a teenage daughter Jean (played by Anne Louise Brings) and a troubled marriage, the nuances of which Beecher and April Fossen depicted with sympathetic realism. Middle daughter Ivy Weston has remained close to home, and Michele Rideout faithfully depicted the internal conflict of a woman torn between caring for her parents and trying to live her own life. And youngest daughter Karen Weston (played by Melanie Nelson) has come home with fiancé Steve (played by Joe Crinch), firmly believing true love will finally bring her happiness.

Photo by Alex Weisman, IceWolf Photography.

“August: Osage County” cast members

The immediate family is joined by Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (played by Sallie Cooper), her husband Charlie (played by Daniel Torrence), and her middle-aged son Little Charles (played by Stein Erickson). Even with limited stage time, each of these characters’ stories felt authentic. Daniel Torrence’s performance was particularly enjoyable as Charlie constantly tried to calm stressful situations with his mild-mannered humor.

Performed at the Sugar Space Warehouse Theater, the massive set was created to show two floors of the Weston family home (set design byKevin Dudley, scenic artist Amanda Ruth Wilson). The lower level of the stage held the furnishings of a large but run-down living room, dining room, and office. Stairs at the back of the stage led to second floor loft space representing a bedroom, a landing area, and an unseen second bedroom. The second level of the stage was backed by a massive strip of fabric to hide the warehouse space beyond.

The stage at the Sugar Space Warehouse Theater is very wide with only a few rows of seats. While this setup gave every seat a great view, the same was not necessarily true for audibility, and there were occasional whole pieces of dialogue I found difficult to understand (sound design by Mikal Troy Klee). However, I found that Martin Alcocer’s lighting design was unobtrusive.

Still, the talented cast gave memorable performances that had me personally invested in each of their stories. The combined efforts of Utah Repertory Theater Company and Silver Summit Theatre Company produced a quality piece of dramatic theater that kept me on the edge of my seat and left me excited to see what they produce next.