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"August: Osage County" Comes to Oklahoma City (Oct 06, 2010)
Oklahoma made another splash on Broadway when “August: Osage County” moved from its creative home with the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. As KGOU’s Kurt Gwartney reports, the critically acclaimed play is now making its first run in Oklahoma City. The production by Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre is one of the first performed by a regional professional theater.

Most reviews of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer, Tony, and Drama Desk-winning play mention the laughs it generates, but let’s be clear – this is not Oscar Hammerstein. August: Osage County features an Oklahoma family, the Westons, who not only spell “dysfunctional” in all-caps, but also compress their troubles into syrup so concentrated that no amount of alcohol, foul language, drugs, or sexual immorality could dilute it to a reasonable level. At the heart of this R-rated play is the relationship between three sisters and their mother. The whole family, including husbands, boyfriends, and children, are brought together in a closed-up house on the Oklahoma plains, when their alcoholic father, who’s a famous poet, goes missing.

At a recent rehearsal for the Oklahoma City production of the play, I visited with the actresses portraying the Weston women. The trio relishes in the complicated characters they play on stage, and find connections in their own lives.

“I think we recognize people that we know, people that we love, and even ourselves in it,” said Chris Schinske, who plays Karen Weston, the youngest daughter. “When recognize that, then we see the humor in it.”

“Through a lot of tension, sometimes come those moments,” said Ruth Charnay, who plays middle sister Ivy. “Everybody’s had that experience of being at a funeral and all of a sudden, something strikes you funny and you need to feel the need to laugh. You’re seeing people that you haven’t seen in a long time, so along with the tension and frustration, there’s an anxiety that creates the giggly moments.”

“Most families are not perfect,” said Stacey Logan, who plays the oldest daughter, Barbara. “Tracy Letts, the author of the play, based it not-so-loosely on his family, particularly his grandmother. It’s an incredible role that Pam Dougherty gets to play.”

And while the characters in the play fail to represent the image of self-reliant, steady-as-the-wind-sweeping-down-the-plain Oklahomans supported by the State Tourism Department, many members of the CityRep cast have Oklahoma roots. Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered in 2007, playwright Tracy Letts, who’s an Oklahoma native, talked with Robert Siegel.

“[Oklahomans are] delighted to see themselves represented on the stage even if it's not always in the most flattering way,” Letts said. “You don't see a lot of plays about Oklahoma. You don't see a lot of plays with Oklahoma characters.   Actually, you don't see a lot of plays with characters from a lot of the United States.”

And Oklahomans are responding positively to the CityRep production. All the original performances were sold out. But founding artistic director Don Jordan added an additional performance for Saturday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. The production of August: Osage County is also one of the first-ever performed by a professional, regional theatre. For KGOU, I’m Kurt Gwartney.

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