Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Solid "August: Osage County" Reflects Harlequin Productions' Stature

Ellen McLain and Ann Flannigan in August: Osage County (courtesy Harlequin Productions)
Many folks in the Greater Seattle area don't get out to any theater location they think of as "boonies." That might include Renton, Bellevue, Redmond, Edmonds, Tacoma, the West Sound, Federal Way, Burien, Kent, and certainly Olympia.

I'll encourage you to consider venturing farther afield than Capitol Hill and Downtown Seattle because there are a lot of solid theater producers out there, including SecondStory Repertory (Redmond), Phoenix Theatre and Driftwood Theatre (Edmonds), Renton Civic, Burien Actors Theatre, Centerstage (Federal Way), Theatre Battery (Kent), Tacoma Musical Playhouse, and Harlequin Productions (Olympia).

It's not easy to consider driving 66 miles (from Seattle to Olympia), but those who do generally find productions that are equal to our midrange Seattle theaters like ArtsWest, Seattle Public, and Taproot.

Case in point, their current production of August: Osage County. "Set in a huge farmhouse on the plains of modern day, middle-class Oklahoma, August: Osage County is darkly comic as it shares the revelations of the the embattled Weston family. When the patriarch of the household mysteriously vanishes, the Weston clan gathers together to simultaneously support and attack one another as they negotiate the hilariously cynical and drug fueled forcefield generated by the devious matriarch, Violet." Written by Tracy Letts, the play was a 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner. 

It's a sprawling, three-hour work. (Note: a particular strain of this production was that it clocked in at 3 1/2 hours the day I saw it, which is a good half hour too long even for this play.) It's a naturalistic dialogue play with complex family relationships, but it all hinges on the key role of Violet. In Harlequin's production, they cast Seattle-area veteran actor (and celebrity video game vocalist) Ellen McLain as Violet. That's pretty heavy-weight casting.

Other actors well-known to Seattle audiences include Angela DiMarco, Doug Fahl, Bill Johns, Brian Pucheu, and Jenny Vaughn Hall. Along with frequent actors in the Harlequin fold, they all combined to give a solid rendition of this comprehensively examined, sarcastic, sporadically humorous family drama.

Director Aaron Lamb manages a difficult job, with scenes that involve eight or more of the 13 characters at once. The scenic design by Jeannie Beirne is one of the best layouts of what is supposed to be a three-story house that I have seen for this production. Sight-lines are rarely compromised, which is a difficult consideration.

If actors of this accomplishment and talent are willing to travel all the way out there for rehearsals and performances, they're doing so because they believe the productions are worth their time and effort.

August: Osage County performs until September 16, 2017. Tickets are available here: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=64541. Do consider sampling this production or others in their upcoming season.