Bay City Players Tackles the Emotional Complexities of Addiction in AUGUST: Osage County

    icon Jan 10, 2019
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Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best New Play, August: Osage County is a comedy-drama written by Tracy Letts that centers around the Weston family, brought together after their patriarch, world-class poet and alcoholic Beverly Weston, disappears.  In the vein of such confrontational playwrights as Edward Albee and David Mamet, we are given a front seat at the table of an American family besieged by personal demons and lost in the stupefying hungover daze of the American Dream.

The matriarch, Violet, depressed and addicted to pain pills and “truth-telling,” is joined by her three daughters and their problematic lovers, who harbor their own deep secrets, her sister Mattie Fae and her family, well-trained in the Weston family art of cruelty, and finally, the observer of the chaos, the young Cheyenne housekeeper Johnna, who was hired by Beverly just before his disappearance.

Holed up in the large family estate in Osage County, Oklahoma, tensions heat up and boil over in the ruthless August heat. Bursting with humor, vivacity, and intelligence, August: Osage County is equally  dense and funny, vicious and compassionate, enormous and unstoppable - in short, a meaty serving laden with its own recipe of challenges for both the cast and director Judy Harper, as they busily put the finishing touches on Bay City Players production of masterful creation, with performances set to run from February 1-3 and February 8-10th.

Violet, who is being treated for mouth cancer due to heavy cigarette use for most of her life, is also a heavy drinker addicted to several different kinds of prescription drugs and exhibits paranoia and mood swings. Beverly, who freely admits that he is an alcoholic, lightly converses about Violet's current problems, most of which Beverly concedes are the result of personal demons too powerful to be cured by drugs. Violet enters the scene clearly affected by her drugs. After an incoherent and combative argument with Beverly, Violet returns upstairs. Beverly hires Johnna, lends her a book of T.S. Eliot's poetry, and continues to drink.

While Letts’s play is billed as a “dark comedy,” all the nasty truths that drive each family member bubble up and spew over in all sorts of excruciating ways. Old family secrets burst forth and new family scandals arise; there’s adultery, there’s incest, there’s drug abuse, there’s molestation. And in varying phases of her ever-present drug-induced haze, Violet finds ways to bluntly insult, abuse, accuse, or humiliate each relative individually until they’ve all abandoned her, one by one, in anger or in wounded disillusionment.

Pretty heavy and heady topical material, for certain.

Given the dark nature of the subject matter, what are some of the themes that Judy as a director is trying to emphasize; and what does she feel is the most challenging component involved with translating this production for the stage?

“First, and foremost, our production will examine the functions in a dysfunctional family,” she states.
“So often we assume that dysfunction means utter chaos, but for a family such as the Westons, each character has a functional understanding of what brought this family into the chaos and have developed coping skills - although not always the right ones.  The play also explores the topic of addiction.  Alcohol and pill-popping are clearly visible, but I want the audience to see that we all have addictions to something and it's how we handle it that matters.”

“The greatest challenge of this production is to avoid the stereotypical definition of dysfunction and present the humanity of each character.  The goal of the production is to let the audience empathize with this family's struggle.  To see them as human - both the good and the evil.”

Is there any one characteristic that these characters share in common; and are there any insights to be gained through this play about the nature of addiction and serious substance abuse? 

“The commonality these characters share is they all clearly understand their past failures, but as intelligent as they are, they don't seem to have the inner strength to learn from and correct the behaviors that created these situations,” reflects Judy.  “The message about addiction seems to be that it takes amazing inner strength to defeat those demons, and it can't be conquered without firm support from others.  However, when we try to help others with addictions, we too find ourselves following the same path of desperation, which often enhances the addiction. Addiction is easy to identify, but extremely difficult to fix.”

“I am fortunate to have a very strong cast,” notes Judy.  “Debbie Lake, who portrays pill-popping Violet, is enjoying the challenge of stepping out from her comfort zone.  John Tanner, who plays Beverly, is seen only briefly, but the eloquent delivery of his dialogue will leave a haunting memory for the audience.  Sarah Greene, Marci Rogers, and Erin Frye play the Weston sisters and each strives to not follow in their parents footsteps, but ultimately succumb to their own addictions.  Kurt Miller and Jeanne Gilbert, as the Aikens, provide the comedic relief for the audience - although it is often a double-edged sword.  These actors bring years of experience to the stage and work as a collaborative team to give honesty to their characters.”

When asked what she feels ae the biggest attributes of this production that contribute to its audience appeal, making it a worthwhile and significant theatrical experience, Judy references its unabashed candor.

“This play gives an honest picture of the damage addictions have on all family members.  It demonstrates how people often can't readily see the solution to their problems.  It attempts to explain the horror of dysfunction while presenting the humanity that was once evident in these characters lives.  All of us suffer from dysfunction from time to time, and this production allows the audience to see how easily we can be trapped.  The hope is the audience will learn from this family and not allow themselves to fall too far into the same deadly trap.  Hopefully, it makes us realize what behaviors and thoughts we need to change before it's too late for us as well.”

“I thought long and hard about directing this production,” she concludes.  “The actress in me longed to play one of these amazing roles, but the director within was excited to take on a daunting challenge.  I'm learning many things about myself, and this play is making me face my personal struggles as well.”

Bay City Players production of ‘August: Osage County’ will be performed February 1-3 and 8-10 at 7:30 pm, with the exception of Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets are now on sale for $20 adults and $10 students by phoning 989.893-5555 or visiting


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