Betty Comden & Adolph Green At August: Osage CountyThursday, February 03, 2011
Theatre here has gone a long way since.
I have seen the Sunday newspapers of my hometown of Buenos Aires and of that other city I lived in, Mexico City. They usually have two pages in the theatre section. Most of the plays seem to be old nuggets from the past and I see little experimentation. A company like the Electric Company Theatre and its co-production with the Arts Club Theatre of Tear The Curtain would be unheard of in my hometowns. Some, in complete ignorance, might say that the Arts Club has a history of producing long established “safe” plays. That is certainly not the case. Last year's musical, Nevermore, based on the life and last days of Edgar Allan Poe was a surprising revelation on how even a musical could be avant garde and still please.
Thanks to the availability of multi stages, the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, and the two venues on Granville Island, the Granville Island Stage and the Granville Island Review Stage, there is always a variety of plays and musicals to satisfy anyone.
Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County which Rosemary and I attended last night in it inaugural performance in Vancouver at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage was a difficult play. It was difficult in only one way. By the end of the evening I had no idea how to pronounce Osage. Believe me it is not self evident!
I mulled how I was going to illustrate this blog as I make it my personal rule that I must do so with one of my file pictures of any of the actors, the director (alas I never did photograph the director and former actress Janet Wright). The lineup of actors for this play is long, 13 and yet I have never photographed them. In fact in the whole production the only person I have photographed is Fight Director Nicholas Harrison, who has a beautiful collection of ancient daggers and broad swords but who I must protest here and now for the unconvincing black foam frying pan wielded as a weapon by the almost always calm Quelemia Sparrow whose performance last night convinced me I want to see a lot more of her in the near future.
The presence of Betty Comden and Adolph Green here is my entry into this blog. Why? In Sean Allan’s (who plays Beverly Weston) bio he has a long list of people he appeared with, from June Allyson (and I am old enough to know who she is and her connection with another name, Van Johnson) to, would you believe, Ed Sullivan and André Previn. Smack in the middle of that list with a few that I too, have photographed I found Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Sean Allan’s performance in the play, while brief is a real pleasure. If I am to believe his bio and those over-six decades of acting I can only say that no matter what T.S. Eliot might have said in the Hollow Men, “life is very long,” this has been good to Allan and to his audience, us.
So I believe that I have some sort of a blessing to proceed here.
The play, from its very beginning (it is set in the almost south, in Pawhuska, Oklahoma) reminded me of a Tennessee Williams play modernized with a bit less booze and many more pills. That the play also reminded me of the novels of Faulkner. This was good, too. I like to read of situations that seem scary and alien and that somehow I believe (for personal comfort) can happen only in the US. We in Canada are exempt!
Rosemary read the program before we even sat down. I like to go for the surprise so I knew nothing of this play.
Curiously as action unfolded and the Sean Allen’s almost literate monologue became an no holds barred and vicious dialogue of insults (some extremely literary ones) I felt like I was watching a computer game where I could almost feel the controls in my hand. I felt as if I could advance the controls to even more action. Action proceeded to food being dropped and thrown and some attempting strangling.
I had this odd feeling of déjà vu. It came to me in a flash - Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, Susan George and Peter Vaughan. I had seen the film with Rosemary in Mexico City in 1971 on a Friday. We had had a tough week of teaching English in American companies and we had driven miles of bumper to bumper traffic. We had both found the violence of Straw Dogs invigorating, justifiable and somehow soothing for us at the end of that terrible week. The Greeks had a name for this sort of thing, catharthis (κάθαρσις).
I felt the same last night as insults flew and relationships deteriorated. It almost felt good. It felt good because even though most families are dysfunctional (as mine is) none can possibly top the over-the-top Weston clan of August: Osage County.
It was in Joan McLeod’s (directed by Dean Paul Gibson) Toronto, Mississippi which Rosemary and I saw last year at the Playhouse that I saw a virtuoso performance by Meg Roe who plays an autistic young girl.
This mesmerising performance was equalled last night by Nora McLellan who plays pill-popping (and she hides her pills in unusual places!) Weston family matriarch, Violet Weston. The other actors were all almost as good and in particular Karin Konoval who plays her eldest daughter, Barbara Fordham. I absolutely hated Mackenzie Gray who plays Steve Heidebrecht who is Karen Weston’s (the younger daughter) fiancé. But I know why I hate him, his performance as a despicable vapid American, one of those each one of us gets to meet at least once in our life, is perfect.
The other surprise, which I would like to reiterate here, is the stabilizing presence (was it meant to be?) of the delightful Quelemia Sparrow.