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Review by Vince Mediaa

The San Jose Stage Company presents Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best New Play. The clever Kenneth Kelleher directs a superb, searing ensemble in this powerhouse production, which proves to be as toxic-love comedy as it is intensely tragic. The Weston Osage County home is now open at the San Jose stage only through Sunday April 24th.

Director Kelleher keeps his cast at 100% overdrive and crackling during Letts overlapping dialogue of a dysfunctional American family. “Love does not factor in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,” says Kelleher “It is a stifling and riveting combat between the stranglehold of family ties and the desperate mania to break free. It is not a redemptive work, but a staggering and powerful reminder of the neediness of our common plight.”

The Weston family patriarch played by the flawless Randall King, lays out the arrangement pretty clearly in the opening scene. As Beverly Weston interviews the young Native American new house care maid, he is scouring for half empty bottles of whiskey in the main living room. Once a praised poet himself, dad Weston rambles T.S Elliot and displays a high intellect while drinking. King presents a prelude to Letts’ Pulitzer-winning tale of family mayhem that emphasizes the “dys” in “dysfunctional.” This San Jose Stage cast of 13 brilliant players take you on Letts’ rousing emotional rollercoaster that rivals any of Arthur Miller's family epics.

“My wife takes pills, and I drink; that’s the bargain we struck,” says Mr Weston to Johnna Monevata, played by the authentic L.Duarte, the home care aide she has been hired to help his wife, Violet, deal with addictions and her battle with cancer. His wife then staggers into the living room, cigarette in hand and high as a kite. Violet cusses up a storm while asking about the “Indian” in her house. In need of work, Johnna accepts the position, only to learn her new boss disappears the very next day. Mrs Weston is played by the incredible Judith Miller, who takes pills and bullies all her family members including her daughters. Slowly over the 3 hours this theatrical epic bursts with addiction, jealousy, guilt, toxiclove, and long-guarded secrets.

Violet Weston is a terrifying piece of work, who explodes into rage as she controls her family. Her relatives seem to hold their breaths in her malicious presence. Judith Miller is a tour de force as the Violet, she is compelling in the role of the brutal mother, with a bottle of pills in her hand “You see these babies? These are my best fuckin' friends and they never let me down. You try to take them away from me, I'll eat ya alive!' Only her sister Mattie Fae, played by the vibrant Marie Shell, remains unintimidated. Shell as well as the entire cast is at 100% rage and tears during both acts

Violet is vaguely fretful, divided between speculating about Bev and bullying her daughters; Ivy Weston played by the venerable Elena Wright, who is single, and Barbara played by the award winning Allison Rich. They both arrive as the extended family comes together when Mr Weston goes inexplicably missing. Barbara's husband Bill and teenage daughter Jean played by the frisky talented Carley Herlihy also are in attendance. Local favorite Rich is extraordinary as the older daughter as she tries to take control of her unruly mother. “Eat the fish” she yells at Violet, one of the few humorous moments in the second act.

The tension continues between daughter and mother when Violet accuses Barbara of “breaking her father’s heart” by moving away from the Oklahoma homestead. Violet doesn’t miss the friction between Barbara and her husband Bill, played by the stand out Michael Ray Wisely. The couple separated after Bill had an affair with one of his students. Dad Weston’s empty boat is found, and his body is discovered. The sheriff played by the polished Terrance Smith brings the news to the family.

After the funeral, the gloves come off and the story gets darker with the arrival of Karen, the remaining of the three Weston Sisters, played by the ideal Tenya Maria. Karen's sketchy fiance Steve, played by Joshua Hollister, brings additional creepiness to the dinner table. The terrible secrets, old and new, about Ivy, about Mattie Fay, about Bev, about Steve, and Violet are thrown out. Nobody goes unscathed including Mattie Fay’s unflappable husband Charlie played by the excellent Tim Kniffin, rails at his wife’s unforgivable attacks on their son, Little Charlie who is so fragile he seems breakable. Little Charlie he is played by the skilled Matthew Kropschot,

The stellar cast is more than equal to the demanding script. The high stress and tension turns explosive, it brings back past pain and nightmares, creating a whole new set of problems. Arguments turn into full-blown fights while Johnna silently works in their shadows, forgotten amongst the chaos of screaming and shattering dishes. Three riveting fight coaches; Justin Travis Buchs, Terrance Smith and Johnny Moreno coordinated all tumbles, slaps, plate tossing and strangling. The family dinner to honor Mr Weston - is one of the best staged scenes in American Theatre and I have seen this dinner a few times and Kelleher’s cast is full throttle.

A creative production team created the ideal emotional setting for this home. Set Designer Bill Vujevich uses a single level with a staircase to create the typical interior of an American working-class home. Prop designer Jenn Trampenaucluttered the home with books and scuffed, mismatched wooden furniture and musty couch along with an elegant setting for the dinner. Prescription pills and liquor bottles seem to be within reach from anywhere in the house, and the windows are papered and taped over. Lighting designer Maurice Vercutere sets a dim tone that is almost claustrophobic–when the family complains about the baking heat throughout the three hours, you can almost feel it with them. The effect is uncomfortable, which, given the plotline that follows, is completely appropriate. Sound designer Steve Schoenbeck used American heartland songs in between scenes, Stage manager Justin Travis Buchs is an expert at coordinating 13 busy actors on and off the Weston home.

Tracy Letts, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is the great American drama of the 21st century that easily stands beside "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" as a booze- drug-fueled story about the sacrifice of poetry and humanity to everyman’s self-interest. This is a play that will have you outraged, laughing through your tears. We see this American family taking the fall as we recognize the fall is our own. This production has been awarded a “GO SEE” by the SF Bay Area Critics Circle - Tickets are going fast - make this your first journey back to live theatre.






Featuring; Judith Miller, Randall King, L. Duarte, Allison F. Rich, Michael Ray Wisely, Carley Herlihy, Elena Wright, Tanya Marie, Marie Shell, Tim Kniffin, Matthew Kropschot, Joshua Hollister, and Terrance Smith

San Jose Stage Company

490 S 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113

Must close APRIL 24th

RUNNING TIME: 3 hours one intermission

TICKETS: $32 - $72 at

SUBSCRIPTIONS: $125 - $260 at

Photos by Dave Lepori

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