REVIEW: August: Osage County (Footlighters Theater, Berwyn PA)
The Tony-Winning Play is Brought to Life With Exuberance By An Extremely Talented Community Cast.
There is something to be said when a theatre selects a new American classic play as it's season opener. It's a risky move, as plays have a reputation of not being able to sell as well as musicals among the community theatre circuit, but the people over at Footlighters Theatre in Berwyn, PA have jumped into the deep end with the choice to stage the Tony winner August: Osage County. The show, about the Weston family of Oklahoma, is a staggering piece of theatre, with dense emotional characters, and intense dialogue barreling down on the audience. It brings me joy to report that Footlighters Theatre has been able to impressively present the material, and remind audiences why this piece is considered a new American classic.
Eat the fish, bitch.
As stated, this show is no easy task. Clocking in at roughly three hours, with two intermissions, it is a marathon for audiences and performers alike. The Weston family is put through the ringer, with topics of abuse, addiction, sexual assault, racism and more being discussed or depicted. As a personal shout out here: these topics are all included in the prominent content warning in the lobby of the theater, which all theaters should do! Director Dakota Adams does a wonderful job at keeping the action of the show tight, cohesive, and constantly pulsating with the energy of a family fraying at the seams. She utilizes the set well in framing his stage pictures, playing and crafting some fascinating tableau. The only downside in terms of the staging was the fight choreography, which felt a touch too staged, and occasionally came off a bit cheesy, as opposed to the intense imagery that was its intention. This could easily be an actor safety issue though, and while ensuring the safety of performers is vital, a touch more finesse (and potentially a fight choreographer) could have elevated this aspect further to drive home the intensity.
Adams assembles a truly powerful cast of performers to make up the Weston Clan. Leading the family as matriarch Violet is Barbara Burri, who fills her character with a venomous drawl, and a reckless abandon that is captivating to watch. She's never over the top, and never becomes a caricature, which can be said of the whole cast, truthfully. All of the performers gave naturalistic, grounded performances that flowed seamlessly together. Matching her mother's ferocity was Meghan Sudol Crook as Barbara, the eldest daughter of the family. Her exasperation at trying to maintain the life she has built while everything crumbles around her was truly heartbreaking to watch. Crook filled Barbara with a likability and vulnerability that was refreshingly authentic; she was a standout among a very well-rounded cast.
Catfish and Pills!
While the performers and direction were strong overall, some of the technical aspects fell a little flat. These are often the more expensive aspects of theatrical production, and while I don't have insight into the specific budget for this theatre, it's no surprise that most theatres are underfunded nowadays; there's no shame in talking about this issue either, as it does tend to affect community theatres most of all. With this production specifically, the lighting in particular felt like it could have used an upgrade. There were a handful of moments of actors obscured in dark spots across the stage, and a lack of color/intensity changes to help embellish the storytelling. However, this felt like working within restrictions rather than intentional choice, hence my previous mention of funding.
The script of August: Osage County is filled with some iconic lines and moments, including one of the best written dinner scenes in recent memory. However, as a whole it was interesting to see how the show was responded to by a modern audience. The show was originally produced in 2007, and a lot has changed in the time from then to now. I'm curious if there were strong visceral reactions then, compared to those at the performance I attended. The topics the show covers are all still relevant today, and while the script could handle some of those topics with more nuance, it is still striking to see how these ideas were broached. Overall the show has aged well, and when it is handled as well as by The Footlighters Theater, you can still see why it became such an instant classic.
August: Osage County is on stage at
the Footlighters Theater
(58 Main Ave, Berwyn PA)
from now until September 17th, 2023.
For more information: footlighterstheater.com
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