August: Osage County
What: Adult stage drama
Where: Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Howard Drew Theatre
When: Through Sept. 16; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $35 adults, $21 students
Information: 402-553-0800 or omahaplayhouse.com
Somebody must have invented the term tour de force to describe what Susan Baer Collins does in “August: Osage County.”
If this first drama of the 2012-13 season isn't the best of the year, I can't wait to see what is. There's not a weak link in this largely veteran cast, or a missed emotional beat in Amy Lane's sensitive direction and spot-on staging.
Collins plays pill-addicted Violet Weston, matriarch of an incredibly messed up Oklahoma family in Tracy Letts' Pulizter-winning play, which opened Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Except she doesn't really play her. She becomes this monster/victim. And it's scary-awesome. Collins' carefully calibrated scenes range from heartless cruelty to searing regret, lucid conversation to stumbling incoherence. She's so convincing within seconds of her entrance, wobbly Violet approaching a staircase raised an audible wave of alarm in the audience.
Violet's alcoholic husband, Beverly, has gone missing. Her three daughters and sister rush to the rambling family home (terrific scenic design by Jim Othuse) with husbands, boyfriends and even a teen granddaughter in tow.
Nobody is spared as long-kept family secrets spill out, old scores get settled and the family stumbles into an uncertain future. Dirty laundry isn't just aired, it's shredded and then burned.
It's painful to watch as these deeply human characters scratch and claw, emotions made raw by a pileup of personal and family crises.
It's also extremely funny. Letts has leavened this sticky mess with black humor, much of it profane and scarring — but a Wednesday preview audience couldn't help laughing out loud. A lot.
Letts folds in plot twists at regular intervals, and you could hear the audience gasp with each new reveal. The intimate playing area, with seats on three sides, becomes electric as emotions bounce from players to audience and back again.
The Westons are so combative that, at the the top of Act 2, three arguments rage simultaneously as the family prepares to sit down to dinner.
And the dinner itself is one of the most mesmerizing scenes this reviewer has seen on a local stage. Violet goes on the attack, picking off family members one by one until a brawl spills out of the dining room, across the living room and up the stairs.
Why should you want to see this? Great acting, as good as local community theater ever gets. Great writing, on a par with “Long Day's Journey Into Night” or “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” And for the resonance of family dynamics you know well in this extreme example of coming together and falling apart.
From small parts (Bill Hutson as witty half-drunk Beverly, Rachel Kirwan as a fly-on-the-wall caregiver) to leads (Moira Mangiameli at her considerable best as Vi's angry daughter Barbara) and everyone in between (Kim Jubenville as Vi's shrewish sister, Randy Vest as her voice-of-reason husband, Laura Leininger as Vi's self-absorbed and self-deluded daughter — honestly, all of them), this cast delivers both the comedic and dramatic goods.
Especially Mangiameli and Collins. Watching these two gifted actresses square off again and again, you can't help thinking each has elevated the other to new heights. It's heavy adult fare, but it's also can't miss theater for fans of live drama.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1269, firstname.lastname@example.org