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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Stars Collide in MTC's August: Osage County

The San Francisco Bay Area premier staging (the Broadway production toured in 2009) of Tracy Letts’ TONY Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County celebrating the opening of Marin Theatre Company’s 50th season does not disappoint. The stunning Broadway run of this new American classic that was something to behold, a transfer from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company, with scene-crushing Deanna Dunagan as the venomous and hilarious mother flailing through a sumptuous naturalistic set.

In the much more intimate house at MTC, Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis’ sturdy take on this dramedy is worthy of the weight that this tortured family endures across three acts when the patriarch Beverly Weston (superbly set up by Will Marchetti) goes missing.

The family gathers to assess the crisis at a large country house outside of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where the past haunts the present and future. With obvious echoes of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and Eugene O’Neill, Letts’ play unfolds in unexpected ways. The wife, Violet, played with comic-tragic verve by Sherman Fracher, is a cancer-stricken, pill-popping mess to Beverly’s alcoholic poetic musings. She only sobers up in Act Two after the elder daughter swoops in to attempt a takeover from her outpost in Colorado along with the family clan from near and far.

In-laws, cousins, grandchildren and the three sisters (and the men in their lives) all join in to reveal, expose and exorcise old wounds and love in a full-throttle attack and celebration of the American Dream. Debates on the beauty of aging women and daggers thrown at the “Greatest Generation” are particularly comic and biting.

J.B. Wilson’s set is, at first, a maze of Modernist stairs and platforms, but is revealed through Kurt Landisman’s discreet lighting to be a frame to showcase what emotions hide in the shadows, how relationships evolve in stages and how aspiration can be met with missteps and unpredictable twists of fate.

The cast (all local favorites) bring out the script’s finer points essential to this ensemble piece. Even supporting characters are critical in this work, notably Charlie and Mattie Fae (Robert Sicular and Anne Darragh), who fuel their scenes with keen intensity and realism. The elder sister Barbara, features the nuanced Arwen Anderson as a full-fledged antidote and mirror of her mother.

For those who only saw the Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts film version, this a true reminder of how the stage version of this story outshines the gloss of film with an emotional impact only possible under the wings of the right actors and the pro team behind this production. Indeed, “Here we go round the prickly pear,” as T.S. Eliot is referenced in this world of the Westons, “This is the way the world ends.”

Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley. Through October 2, Tuesday-Sunday, 7:00 pm, Sat-Sun matinees at 1:00 pm. $22-60. 415-388-5208. marintheatre.org.