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August: Osage County

Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning drama at Harlequin

Clockwise from left: Janette Oswald, Brian Pucheu, Jason Haws, Bill Johns, Diane Goodknight. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

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The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts is a play unlike any other. The story unfolds, or should we say erupts, over a few weeks in the rural Oklahoma home of Beverly and Violet Weston. It opens with Beverly (a crusty but kindly old drunk played by the inimitable Russ Holm) hiring Johnna, a young Cherokee woman (Mackenzie Platt), as a housekeeper and telling her ad infinitum, "My wife takes pills and I drink."

Not long after, Beverly disappears and the family: their three daughters and their husbands, children and boyfriends plus Violet's sister and her family, gathers. Other than some families in the Roman Empire and, perhaps some families dreamed up by Southern gothic writers, this family is right up there with the most dysfunctional in theater.

Violet has mouth cancer and is addicted to opioids, daughter Barbara has not spoken to the family in years, daughter Ivy is secretly engaged, and there is something not right about daughter Jean's fiancé. Even the sheriff who comes in the middle of the night has a romantic history with one of the daughters. To say anything more about the tangled relationships would be a spoiler.

Herding this 13-person cast, many of who are on stage and dramatically interacting simultaneously, had to have been a Herculean task for director Aaron Lamb and stage manager Gina Salerno. But herd them they did, and masterfully so. Only when it served the dramatic and comedic purposes of the script did this menagerie of misfits devolve into utter chaos -- which it did several times.

There are arguments, recriminations, tears and laughter. There are moments of outlandish humor and scenes of angry clashes, and sordid family secrets are revealed.

A more talented ensemble cast would be hard to imagine. Their interactions, their timing and their admirable acting skills are on display throughout.

The lead actor, if an ensemble such as this can be said to have a lead, is Ellen McLain as Violet. McLain has starred on Broadway with Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and as Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, and is known as the computer game character GLaDOS; and Angela DiMarco as Karen, one of the daughters, has performed at Seattle Rep, has more than 50 film credits, and stars in the television series The Scottish Play. Also featured are Harlequin regulars Jenny Baughn Hall as Ivy Weston; Ann Flannigan as Barbara Fordham; Jason Haws as Barbara's husband, Bill; and Bill Johns as Beverly and Violet's brother-in-law, Charlie.

Doug Fahl plays Steve, John Forbes is Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Dana Goodknight is granddaughter Jean Fordham, Janette Oswald is Mattie Fae Aiken, and Brian Pucheu is Little Charles Aiken.

Harlequin is known for its gorgeous sets, often interiors with staircases and many doors and windows. Scenic designer Jeannie Beirne truly outdid herself with a three-story home with multiple staircases and cutaway walls.

August: Osage County is life in the raw with comedy and drama and jaw-dropping performances by the entire cast. It runs three hours with two intermissions.

August: Osage County, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 16, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $34; senior/military, $31; student/youth, $20, 360.786.0151, harlequinproductions.org

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