It’s the talk of Omaha’s theater community this week.
“August: Osage County” marks a double kickoff Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The best-play Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner by Tracy Letts (“Bug,” “The Man From Nebraska,” “Killer Joe”) opens the 2012-13 season.
It also launches the Playhouse’s new “Find Your Stage” concept, which will concentrate mainstream and family shows on its main stage. More cutting-edge and adult fare will play in the smaller Howard Drew Theatre.
That’s where “August: Osage County” opens, and the combination of a powerhouse script and a powerhouse cast has stage fans buzzing.
In the dog days of an Oklahoma summer, the Weston family patriarch has gone missing. Gathering at the rambling old family home, his wife, three daughters and other family members bump up against each other in a toxic nest of buried secrets.
This is one profane, dysfunctional family. The mood swings sharply from black comedy to fury, kindness to cruelty, hurt to healing.
Susan Baer Collins, the Playhouse’s associate artistic director, makes a rare stage appearance as the drug-addicted matriarch, Violet Weston. Moira Mangiameli, Laura Leininger and Erika Hall play her three daughters, while Kim Jubenville is Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae. Bill Hutson, Jim McKain, Rob Baker, Colton Neidhardt and Randy Vest are the men in their messed up lives.
Collectively, this core bunch of actors has won 17 Playhouse awards for lead roles, five for supporting roles and two for cameos, plus numerous awards at other area theaters. Newcomers Rachel Kirwan and Olivia Sather, plus Brennan Thomas, complete the cast. Most were part of a staged reading of the play in June 2011 for the Playhouse’s 21 & Over series.
Scenic and lighting designer Jim Othuse, also an award winner, said the large, ramshackle house, built a century ago but neglected for decades, is almost another character in the play.
Othuse’s task was to fit a dining room, bedroom, study, sitting room, second-floor landing, porch and more into the Howard Drew, which has limited height.
“We couldn’t eat up too much audience space,” Othuse said, “so we rotated the set 90 degrees clockwise from where it usually sits.” Audience members will be on three sides of the playing area, adding intimacy and dramatic impact to what happens onstage.
Director Amy Lane said even though the house is sprawling, most scenes are between just two or three characters, underlining the play’s themes of separation and coming together.
Lane said 96 people showed up to audition for the 21 & Over reading of “August: Osage County.” “They were just the best of the best, and it’s nice those people are back.”
Collins said everyone came to the first rehearsal already having learned their lines, elevating the level of performance right away.
“Everybody is so at the top of their game,” Lane said. “Because the actors are all so individually brilliant, they’re bringing each other up several notches.”
While the Westons’ problems are extreme, she said, the dynamics of family will feel more than familiar to audience members.
Contact the writer: