BUFFALO - The Kavinoky Theatre Company is presently undertaking an examination of what is probably the most dysfunctional family ever captured by a playwright for performance on a dramatic stage.
''August: Osage County,'' by Tracy Letts, has been one of the most honored and studied plays of the most recent decade. It is set in present-day Oklahoma and it recounts the happenings in the Weston Family, surrounding the funeral of Beverly Weston, who was the family's patriarch.
Kavinoky has gathered the most star-studded cast I've ever witnessed on the Buffalo stage, and they do the powerful writing proud. Everybody in this play is badly messed up, and I can imagine inadequate acting could turn it into a big shouting match. Instead, the anger and the envy and the lust and the hatred and the love and the admiration and all the other thoughts and feelings which the playwright serves up in her writing, all just ebb and flow, like themes in a well-written symphony.
Veteran actor Sheila McCarthy portrays the central character, Violet Weston. Violet is just plain mean, and she has been brewing up a virtual Niagara of hatred which she now allows to flow over her three daughters, their husbands and children, her husband's memory, the residents of the town, and anyone else who has the bad fortune to cross her path.
Violet has been taming her hatred with a list of prescription drugs which makes one tired to hear recited. She goes to numerous doctors, and succeeds in getting prescriptions for all her desired mood controllers, often going to astonishing lengths to hide them from relatives who think they can save her from herself.
Daughter Ivy shouldn't wear a black pantsuit to her father's funeral because it makes her look like a lesbian, Violet proclaims in front of everyone, and since she hasn't succeeded in finding a man for herself, that's a description Ivy ought to avoid.
Daughter Barbara's husband is weak and immature, and Barbara drives him to seek other women by her inability to offer him warmth and support. Daughter Karen's fiance bears the last name Heidebrecht, which clearly means he's GERMAN, a concept Violet spits out as though it were a contagious fatal ailment.
Many readers have begged me to inform them when powerful, effective drama comes to an area stage, and this is the production. This play and this production are not for the lovers of light entertainment . It's brilliant theater, brilliantly directed by Robert Waterhouse, and superbly acted. The setting works perfectly, the lights and costumes are spot-on, and the sound is crystal clear.
The rest of the cast, surrounding Ms. McCarthy's tour de force are Saul Elkin as the about-to-depart Beverly, and Kay Kerimian as the Native American housekeeper Beverly hires to try and keep things moving forward, despite his drinking and his wife's pill addictions.
Kelli Bocock-Natale is a force of nature as Violet's equally vicious sister, Norman Sham is Charlie, the sister's put-upon husband,Kristen Tripp Kelley is poor, abandoned Ivy, and Eileen Dugan is the daughter voted most likely to turn into Mom.
Tim Newell is the weak and overwhelmed husband of Ms. Dugan's character, Zoe Appler is that last couple's daughter, who has already done just about everything, and has succeeded in convincing them that she hasn't.
Steve Jakiel is the sheriff, who once dated Ms. Dugan's character and who now has to wade into and out of the family's hatred and bitterness. Kelly Meg Brennan is the daughter who lives in Florida and still foolishly thinks she can escape the family forces flowing through her bloodlines, and Brian Riggs is the handsome but badly flawed German fiancee. That leaves Steve Copps as the son of Violet's sister, who at age 34 is still called Little Charles, to distinguish him from his father.
These are fascinating people, and they have a great deal they can teach you about the almost certainly less grim problems in your own family. They'll be acting on the Kavinoky stage through May 19, and some time with them is well worth the effort.