August: Osage County
New cast members -- including Estelle Parsons and Frank Wood -- contribute to the continuing excellence of Tracy Letts' multiple award-winning drama.
The play, tautly directed by Anna D. Shapiro, revolves around the Weston clan in rural Oklahoma, who reunite after the disappearance of patriarch, Beverly (Michael McGuire). The family includes Beverly's pill-popping wife Violet (Parsons); the couple's three adult daughters Barbara (Amy Morton), Ivy (Sally Murphy), and Karen (Mariann Mayberry); Barbara's estranged husband Bill (Wood) and daughter Jean (Molly Ranson); Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Regan) with her husband Charlie (Foxworth) and son Little Charles (True-Frost); and Karen's fiancé, Steve (Brian Kerwin). Rounding out the cast is the newly hired live-in assistant Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero) and sheriff Deon (Troy West).
Parsons displays more outward vulnerability as Violet than Deanna Dunagan, who won a Tony for her acerbic portrayal. However, the veteran actress is still able to be as vicious and nasty as all get-out when she launches into a drug-fueled attack on her family members during a pivotal Act Two dinner scene. In fact, the seeming sweetness of her demeanor makes the character's venomous turns all the more devastating, particularly as she unfolds the final revelation in a drama packed full of family secrets.
The most effective of the cast replacements is Wood, who has such a strong chemistry with Morton's Barbara that their scenes together positively crackle with tension. The love the characters still feel towards each other despite -- or in addition to -- their hatred for one another is one of the play's many complex contradictions.
The remaining newcomers are solid, and if they're not quite at the level of their predecessors, they're well on their way to getting there. Foxworth has a nice, easygoing manner that makes his character the most grounded member of the family. Regan boldly displays Mattie Fae's shrill ridiculousness, while still managing to make her final appearance one of the play's most powerful moments. True-Frost seems almost too conventionally good-looking to play Little Charlie, who most of the family -- especially his mother -- views as a big loser. But there's a shy, delicate quality to his portrayal that makes him endearing.
Also new to the cast since I originally saw the production is McGuire, whose upbeat portrayal of Beverly at the opening of the show brings a sharp focus to the work from the beginning. Ranson nicely captures Jean's confusion and loneliness, and her scene with Guerrero's Johnna is quite touching.
The original cast members all remain strong, and some of them actually seem better. Morton dominates the play, giving a powerhouse performance that is at turns heart-breaking, hilarious, and chill-inducing. Murphy and Mayberry seem to have discovered new emotional depths to their already terrific portrayals and Kerwin doesn't overdo the sleazebag factor to his character. While Guerrero and West don't get to do much of the play's heavy-lifting, their supporting roles make positive contributions to the overall impact of the play, which remains one of the richest, and most rewarding works to come to Broadway in recent years.