The string of eyebrow-raising theatrical productions in the Roanoke Valley of late continued last night with the opening of Showtimers “August: Osage County,” a play that introduced us to Roanoke newcomer Heidi Lane.
Ms. Lane, a North Carolina theater veteran, plays Violet, the cruel, angry, self-absorbed, drug-addicted, meaner than a wounded boar matriarch of the Weston family. The tribe has gathered to morn the death of Violet’s husband, Beverly (played convincingly by Patrick Kennerly in an all-too-brief appearance). Violet insults, bullies and degrades the members of her family one-by-one throughout the three-hour performance, during which she is rarely sober or lucid, but always targeting somebody.
This is an exercise in family dysfunction with a capital “D.” The three daughters are alternately cowed, challenged and horrified by Violet the bully, who, as played by Ms. Lane is memorable. Ms. Lane says she has lived in Roanoke for five years, but this is her stage debut because, she says, there are so few good female roles she wants to play. Violet is a good one, made famous on the screen by Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, in a movie I hated.
The Showtimers production of Tracy Letts’ play was far more enjoyable to me (if “enjoyable” is the proper word for a production that leaves you limp), I think, because it was directed–unlike the movie, which was notable for the lack of direction. That credit belongs to Katerina Yancey (wife of the journalist and playwright Dwayne Yancey) who has molded a group of talented actors into a wowser of a play.
She has a lot to work with beyond a script that will often leave you angry and breathless. Two of Violet’s daughters are played by Kris Sorensen and Stevie Holcomb, both of whom are also directors. I haven’t seen either better on stage than they were last night. Christa Woomer plays the third daughter and her performance with Miss Sorensen setting the dinner table and chattering at one point is worth the price of admission.
The performances are good, top to bottom with support from Brian Lee, James Wise, Carolyn Zeigler, high schooler Savannah Amos, Joel Gruver, Chelsea DeTorres, Steven Baltz and Keith Chumbley.
The set–a group construction effort headed by Ms. Yancey and Cliff Grumsley–works quite well for this production and the lighting (Sean Neff and Alisha Mitchell) is solid.
This is a big cast and crew and a large production for a small theater. “Ambition” is the key word here and Showtimers delivers in a near-spectacular manner, in large measure thanks to two women: Ms. Yancey and Ms. Lane.
The production runs through April 30 and is well worth three of your valuable hours. It is memorable. (Note: The language in “Osage” is harsh, vulgar and quite strong. If your sensibilities run toward the delicate, you might want to opt for “Little Miss Sunshine.”)