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August: Osage County

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“This madhouse is my home!” So, it is, not only for Barb, the eldest of three sisters, but also for the extended, unhappy Weston family populating the Old Globe Theatre stage for Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning opus, “August: Osage County.”

The structural home, a behemoth, dark 3-story Craftsman, dominates the playhouse, casting its oppressive shadow, even indoors. Scenic designer David Zinn created the massive cutaway and its heavily worn furniture, and lighting designer Japhy Weideman added to the spectral gloom, punctuated by sound designer Fitz Patton’s eerie, piercing song of the cicadas.

The despondent house on the Oklahoma prairie has witnessed a crone’s share of Weston battles, betrayals, struggles and secrets, many of which become known as this three-hour family saga evolves inside its walls. But first, the alcoholic, has-been poet and current (but not for long) patriarch Beverly Weston (Robert Foxworth) sets the heavy tone, confessing his depression to Johnna Monevata, (Kimberly Guerrero) the passively attentive Cheyenne woman he is hiring as housekeeper and his wife’s caretaker.

Her first disheveled appearance makes it apparent that taking care of the drug-addicted, foul-mouthed Violet (Lois Markle) will not be a traditional task. Bellowing epithets while chain-smoking, the Weston matriarch makes Martha of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” seem as tame as Carrie Heffernan in TV’s “The King of Queens.”

Even when her husband disappears, occasioning the gathering of the clan that colonizes the story, Vi shows no hint of the conventional grieving spouse. Nor will she be inclined to change her habitual harangues, serving instead as matriarchal bully who gets her jollies by shattering psyches and demolishing dreams.

This is a train wreck of a family, and as its track progresses, there is no turning away, perhaps because there is familiarity instead of contempt. To a role, the acting is as excellent as it is demanding. Letts’ tightly constructed script and Sam Gold’s precise direction generate continual tensions that capture and hold us nervously spellbound, then break with violent bursts of humor that demand more attention and increase the anxiety. We stay with the stress because we know these characters, not all at once, but in small and personal doses, for what family does not contain at least one of them?

On the periphery, only because they live a few miles away, are good ole’ Uncle Charlie Aiken (Guy Boyd), mediator and hail fellow married 38 years to sassy Mattie Fae Aiken (Robin Pearson Rose), who bosses him around and snipes mercilessly at their son, a sweet but simple, Little Charles Aiken (Haynes Thigpen). At the center of the maelstrom is the sisterly trio, Barbara Fordham (Angela Reed), in the middle of a divorce from her midlife-crisis husband Bill (Joseph Adams) and a trying time as mom of a precocious teen daughter, Jean (Ronete Levenson), who is at a crossroads of her own; Ivy Weston (Carla Harting), in the middle of something forbidden; and Karen Weston (Kelly McAndrew), in the middle of what could be a disastrous engagement to Steve Heidebrecht (Robert Maffia) . The middles become riddles, then endings, as the chronicle continues.

There is hope that some of these beleaguered and battle-scarred people will find some happiness. As any psychologist would know, and as every audience member anticipates, Barb is Vi’s understudy, and she is competing with her mother for the lead role. Yet, Barb has found a long-lost friend in Sheriff Deon Gilbeau (Todd Cerveris), her high school prom date, who seems to like her and may be her rescue. Ivy has a secret, reciprocated love, and together they may escape the Weston web. Karen and Steve are engaged and plan to marry on New Year’s Day in Belize.

These happy possibilities exist as sun-dapplings in the bleakness, popping up, quickly disappearing, then reappearing as the saga stretches on. Thanks to those little bright spots and the feisty, sarcastic, somewhat sadistic, but entirely engaging humor that bursts through every encounter, the Westons’ tome is a page-turner. Lunacy in the lodge notwithstanding.

"August: Osage County" plays on the Old Globe Theatre stage in San Diego’s Balboa Park through June 12. Performances: Tues-Thurs and Sun at 7 p.m.; Fri-Sat at 8 p.m.; Matinees on Sat. at 2 p.m. and Sun. at 1 p.m. Tickets are $29-$85, with discounts for full-time students, patrons 29 and under, seniors, and groups. Reservations: or (619) 23-GLOBE



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.