August: Osage County, a play in review

Allison Mueller

Ana Alexander/ Winonan

Last week, Winona State’s Department of Theatre and Dance presented the community with a compelling and poignant show: “August: Osage County.”

The show follows the Weston family, who gathers together after the family patriarch, Beverly Weston, disappears. Beverly’s three daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen, reunite in their childhood home, only to gradually fall apart once more after it is discovered that Beverly has committed suicide. Each of them attempt to take care of their mother, Violet, before it becomes too much for them to handle.

The three daughters fight to keep their respective lives together while dealing with their mother, a spiraling drug addict who criticizes the flaws of every family member whenever possible.

The eldest daughter, Barbara, is struggling to keep her own family together. Though recently separated from her husband Bill, he accompanies Barbara to give her his support along with their daughter, Jean.

Barbara tries to balance all of her familial duties at once: keeping an eye on her daughter, trying to discuss the affair with her husband, and keeping her delirious mother under control, all while organizing her father’s funeral and dealing with his death.

The middle child, Ivy, is on the brink of escaping her family’s insanity by moving to New York. However, she plans to be joined by her lover, Little Charles—who also happens to be her cousin. This is hidden from the rest of the family during the majority of the show, as her mother and Aunt Matty Fae, Little Charles’s mother, pressure her to find a man. She finally lets it slip that she has one, but runs offstage before telling them who it is.

The youngest daughter, Karen, lives in complete but seemingly blissful ignorance. Karen Weston has recently become engaged to Steve Huberbrecht, who she calls her dream man. However, Steve is more interested in Jean, who is only fourteen years old. He attempts to fool around with her in the kitchen, until they are discovered by Johnna, the housekeeper.

The chaos wakes Barbara and Bill up, and the characters begin to argue. As a result, Bill and Jean decide to leave, while Barbara stays with her mother. Steve and Karen decide to leave the house, but Karen completely ignores what happened and decides to stay with Steve.

Violet’s addiction soon gets out of control, and Barbara takes to drinking. The lack of sobriety and produced meanness creates striking parallels between the two characters. Barbara has become disturbingly similar to her parents.

This is highlighted near the end of the play, when Ivy attempts to tell her mother that she and Little Charles were going to run away together. Instead, Violet tells her that Beverly and Mattie Fae had an affair, and Little Charles was actually Ivy’s brother.

Ivy is shocked and hurt by this revelation. She gets angry with her mother and sister for being so cruel to her, and insists that she will run away with Little Charles anyways. Barbara tries to tell her that she was not responsible for the situation and that Violet was the one who told her. But Ivy is not as forgiving as her sister would hope. She leaves, saying there is no longer a difference between Barbara and Violet.

This leaves only Johnna, Violet and Barbara in the house. Violet tells Barbara that she knew there was something going on between Ivy and Little Charles, so she sabotaged their relationship. She also admits that she knew Beverly was going to commit suicide, but waited to call him, and by that time it was too late.

This information is too much for Barbara, who gathers her things, kisses her mother on the cheek and leaves. The play ends with Violet crying, trying to find Barbara. She finally gives up, running to Johnna’s room, where she cries and tells Johnna that everyone has left her. Johnna tries to comfort her, holding her and singing, “This is the way the world ends,” repeatedly until the stage blacks out.

The audience was silent for a few moments, taking in the dramatic tale that had unfolded before them and the emotional scene that wrapped the show up, yet left much to the imagination.

Kaysey Price, a member of the audience, commented on the end of the show.

“I felt that it was very powerful,” Price said. “The line that she was singing was stuck in my head for two hours afterwards.”

The cast of the show radiated the emotions of their characters exceptionally well. It was easy to get sucked into the storyline of the show, because the actors were so believable in their portrayal of their characters.

Emma VanVactor-Lee, who played Ivy, commented on her character.

“She gets pushed around a lot by her mother and aunt in the show. This has been a fun challenge for me because I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as being meek or mouse-like, so it’s been fun to play a character I would not normally get cast as,” VanVactor-Lee said. “It also made finding Ivy’s arch more fun because by the end of the play, well, let’s just say she gains some confidence in herself.”

That confidence was palpable as Ivy stands up to her sister and leaves to create her own life, free from her family’s mayhem. More specifically, she is free from Violet’s mayhem, as are each of the characters. They leave the house one by one, leaving Violet alone with only Johnna and her addiction for company.