Family Reunion Drama, August: Osage County, Opens on Broadway

News   Family Reunion Drama, August: Osage County, Opens on Broadway
 
Once thought to be extinct, the three-act, three-hour, large-cast, dysfunctional-family drama makes a rare appearance on Broadway Dec. 4, with the opening of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, a production of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Amy Morton and Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County.
Amy Morton and Deanna Dunagan in August: Osage County. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Performances at the Imperial Theatre began Oct. 30 following a lauded summer run in the Windy City, where critics mentioned Letts' juicy drama — overflowing with sex, drugs, booze, secrets and lies — in the same breath as Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

The Broadway opening was delayed by a 19-day stagehands' strike, and three weeks were added to the limited-run schedule to make up for it.

In previews in New York City, audiences have been gasping, cringing and howling at the extreme behavior of the Weston clan — a broken family that has gathered at its rambling Oklahoma home following the disappearance of the patriarch.

Under one roof, in stifling summer heat, the extended family threatens to eat itself alive. The play runs three-and-a-half hours and boasts the yeasty ensemble-style acting for which Steppenwolf is known. Steppenwolf appearances in Manhattan are rare, but veteran New York theatregoers are familiar with the style — August's director Anna D. Shapiro and the (mostly) Steppenwolf cast (with their attention to detail and connection) conjure the tight, invested work of the ensemble-oriented Circle Rep, the late, great Off-Broadway company that gave rise to Lanford Wilson and others.

A year ago, the American drama by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer of Man from Nebraska, Bug and Killer Joe was on nobody's radar as a fall 2007 Broadway possibility. But a lauded world premiere by Steppenwolf Theatre Company over the summer made critics and audiences giddy in Chicago, so commercial producers Jeffrey Richards and partners negotiated a fast-track to Broadway's Imperial, for a 16-week limited engagement. (Opening night was originally to be Nov. 20, but the strike scuttled that.) Most of the Steppenwolf troupe jetted east for the staging, which is again directed by Shapiro. Brian Kerwin of Broadway's After the Night and the Music and The Little Foxes joins the production, replacing Steppenwolf ensemble member Rick Snyder. Madeleine Martin, playing a pot-smoking teen granddaughter, also joins this company.

The play, according to the producers, is described this way: "When their patriarch vanishes, the Weston clan must return to their three-story home in rural Oklahoma to get to the heart of the matter. With rich insight and brilliant humor, Letts paints a vivid portrait of a Midwestern family at a turning point."

The title county is pronounced "OH SAGE." Critics conjured such titles as Long Day's Journey Into Night and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as kindred spirits of the play. Prognosticators also see the work as a contender for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The lauded Steppenwolf actors repeat their roles for the Broadway run: Ian Barford (Little Voice) as nephew Little Charles; Deanna Dunagan (Bounce, I Never Sang for My Father) as drug-addicted matriarch Violet; Kimberly Guerrero ("Seinfeld," "The Sopranos") as Cheyenne housekeeper Johnna; Francis Guinan (Constantine) as son-in-law Charlie; Dennis Letts ("Cast Away") as failed poet and missing patriarch Beverly; Mariann Mayberry (Metamorphoses) as daughter Karen; Amy Morton (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) as eldest daughter Barbara; Sally Murphy (Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof) as middle daughter Ivy; Jeff Perry ("Grey's Anatomy," The Caretaker) as Barbara's husband; Rondi Reed (Little Voice) as Violet's sister, Aunt Mattie; Troy West (Picasso at the Lapin Agile) as the Sheriff, an old beau of Barbara's.

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The understudies are Munson Hicks, Susanne Marley, Jay Patterson, Dee Pelletier, Molly Ranson and Kristina Valada-Viars.

The production features sets by Todd Rosenthal (the house is three stories high), costumes by Ana Kuzmanic, lighting by Ann Wrightson and sound design by Richard Woodbury. David Singer penned the original music.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of August: Osage County is produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler, Jerry Frankel, Ostar Productions, Jennifer Manocherian, The Weinstein Company, Debra Black/Daryl Roth, Ronald & Marc Frankel/Barbara Freitag, and Rick Steiner/Staton Bell Group, in association with Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Martha Lavey, artistic director; David Hawkanson, executive director).

To accommodate the length of the performance, show times are Tuesday-Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.

The Imperial Theatre is located in Manhattan at 245 W. 45th Street. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com.

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Steppenwolf Theatre Company's world premiere of August: Osage County opened July 8 after previews from June 28. It closed Aug. 26.

The staging played at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Tracy Letts became a Steppenwolf ensemble member in 2002 and was recently named an artistic associate. He has appeared at Steppenwolf in Betrayal, The Pillowman, Last of the Boys, The Pain and the Itch, The Dresser, Homebody/Kabul, The Dazzle, Glengarry Glen Ross (also Dublin and Toronto), Three Days of Rain, Road to Nirvana, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and the Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of The Glass Menagerie.

Director Shapiro is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf, where her directing credits include The Unmentionables by Bruce Norris (also at Yale Rep), the world premiere of Bruce Norris' The Pain and the Itch (also in New York), Robert Anderson's I Never Sang for My Father, the world premiere of Tracy Letts' Man from Nebraska, Until We Find Each Other by Brooke Berman, Purple Heart by Bruce Norris (also in Galway, Ireland), The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, the world premiere of The Ordinary Yearning of Miriam Buddwing by Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, Warren Leight's Side Man (also in Ireland, Australia and Vail, Colorado), Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain and the world premiere of Bruce Norris' The Infidel.

For more information visit www.steppenwolf.org, or visit www.AugustonBroadway.com.

The Steppenwolf production of <i>August: Osage County</i>.
The Steppenwolf production of August: Osage County. Photo by Michael Brosilow
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