“August: Osage County” Sparkles With Mix Of Wit And Drama At St. Louis Actors’ Studio

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Kari Ely, Meghan Baker and David Wassilak in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Take a Eugene O’Neill family drama and throw in a little of the recently departed Don Rickles and you’ve got the highly entertaining “August: Osage County” from the pen of actor/playwright Tracy Letts. His caustic wit almost overshadows the crises throughout the Weston family that makes the death of the patriarch the launching pad for secrets and near secrets to erupt during this three act, fast moving masterpiece as presented by St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

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William Roth as Charlie leads an awkward prayer before dinner in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

We’ll let you discover the fun and games as it peels off layer after layer of hate and deceit within this classic dysfunctional family. Suffice to say you’ll laugh and cry along with them as sides are taken (and betrayed), alliances are built and even unusual love stories emerge (one heart wrenching, the other perverse). It all starts as we see Larry Dell in an opening monologue as Beverly Weston as he’s talking to the new hire, Johanna, played by Wendy Renee Farmer, a Cheyenne woman he has hired to do chores around the house. The “conversation” seems to be a rambling preamble to his ensuing suicide which brings the whole clan together for the funeral.

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Kari Ely drops in on Wendy Renee Farmer and Larry Dell in the opening scene of “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Kari Ely gives one of the most astonishing performances of her illustrious career as Bev’s wife, Violet. I know that some of the younger members of the cast (and older ones too) must have watched in awe at rehearsals as she developed this remarkable character who uses her voice, intimate and grand gestures and her biting dialogue to do- as is finally revealed- what her mother did to destroy as many members of her family as she can. She’s a tough woman to root for or even tolerate but her vulnerability comes through as well to form this unusual love/hate relationship. It is one astounding portrayal.

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Rachel Fenton standing and Meghan Baker and Emily Baker as the three daughters in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Her daughters are a varied lot as the strongest, Barbara, played with a tough outer skin by Meghan Baker, takes us on a ride of ups and downs until her second act curtain when you know this will either make or break Violet. Emily Baker is the shy, vulnerable daughter who has a little secret of her own that brings sorrow but eventually (we hope) joy to her life. The final daughter, Karen, played with random bursts of joy and almost lunacy at times by Rachel Fenton, is the most naive of the bunch and her new boyfriend becomes a focal point of a lot that makes this family erratic.

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Bridgette Bassa tries to put off the advances of Drew Battles during “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Barbara’s husband, Bill, is played with a staid, professorial tenor by David Wassilak. His dalliance with a young student of his causes consternation in their marriage which isn’t helped by their daughter, Jean, a wild 14-year old played with proper sass by Bridgette Bassa. Trying to fend off the unsightly advances of Karen’s fiance, Steve, played to the hilt of pomposity by Drew Battles, she simply brings more pain to a family which has already suffered a horrible reunion.

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Stephen Peirick and Emily Baker provide a bit of romance during the feuding in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Violet’s sister, Mattie Fay, is given a rousing, almost Southern Belle charm, by Kim Furlow. She comes on strong and hides a few secrets of her own which tend to complicate family matters as well. Her husband, Charlie, is the delightfully droll William Roth who becomes a faint beacon of sanity in this out of control bunch. Their son, Little Charlie, brings one of Stephen Peirick’s strongest performances to the stage. His strength and pathos is a great mix and his secret is one of the more hopeful ones in the play. Rounding out the cast is GP Hunsaker as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau- a pivotal character from Barbara’s background.

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Multiple conversations going on during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Director Wayne Salomon has woven a perfect tapestry of dysfunction with “August: Osage County.” He brilliantly brings out each characters’ idiosyncratic tendencies and blends them into a whole that keeps the audience roaring with laughter while feeling for the heartbreak and tragedy of each character as well. With a brilliant cast, he has turned this production into an instant classic.

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GP Hunsaker as the Sheriff brings bad news to the family in “August: Osage County” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Getting the feeling of grandeur of the Weston estate, set designer Patrick Huber had nowhere to go but up and he does it brilliantly with a split-level version of the three story mansion. Those familiar with the small, black box feel of the Gaslight Theatre will marvel at this achievement. Dalton Robison’s lighting design also helps create the illusion of bigness and Carla Landis Evans has created a wonderful costume design that fits each character perfectly.

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Groups gather during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “August: Osage County.” Photo: Patrick Huber

We have a cast that is nothing short of amazing from top to bottom with Kari Ely leading the way, superb direction and one of the quirkiest works of art Tracy Lett has devised. That makes “August: Osage County” a must-see for your April theatre viewing. It plays through April 30th at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Gaslight Theatre. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

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