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August Osage County

August Osage County
Eureka College Theatre Department
April 14-18
By Chris Gray

Hot summer nights, pushy siblings, ugly truths, and accepting aging and death. These are the hallmarks of Eureka College's production of August Osage County. A 2008 Pulitzer Prize Winner, August Osage County tells the story of the Weston family in rural Oklahoma. The disappearance of patriarch Beverly brings the extended family to search for their father and deal with their mother's cancer. The play unfolds and explores familial issues of infidelity, jealousy, bitterness, and acceptance. The spite within this family is what really drives the action. Audiences both shutter at the hatred spewing from the characters and hope for the redemption that lurks under the surface of all of these troubled family relationships.

Eureka's students bring the characters to life and handle the quick-paced, often-witty dialogue well. Sarah Hall and Drew Carter play well off each other as a married couple. Kayla Jo Pulliam gives a stellar performance as Barbara with a natural stage presence and a great handle for the sardonic manner in which she handles her family. The play offers some challenging roles including matriarch Violet Weston who must be played with age and a range of emotions, often changing emotional levels on a dime with an ability to manipulate every other character on stage. Stephanie Sager handles this role as well as a college-aged student can and captures the conflict necessary to drive forward the action of the play. Austin Travis's portrayal as Little Charles is both pathetic and endearing, capturing pity for his character's plight.

Director Joel Shoemaker has assembled a strong cast. The cast keeps the three-hour play moving and overlapping dialogue gives a realistic feel. There are often multi-focus scenes recognizing the chaos of three generations under one roof. At times, the focus and style choices challenge the audience. For instance, at one point there are three scenes overlapping but the style changes from uber-realism to an exaggerated theatricality. At other times, off-stage focus is used. These variances from honesty and rawness of the familiar characters pulls the audience out of the moment. However, the message of the show is clear and the director's hand can be seen guiding the audience through this complex story.

The expansive set symbolizes the family homestead. Scenic designer Mary Wenzel provides a multi-level home where the family's troubles unfold. The aesthetics support the story and establish the well-loved, worn, and memory-filled home. Sightlines are a challenge for a few locales in this four-level house. The space is used well and the action moves quickly.

August Osage County runs through Saturday beginning at 7:30 pm at the Pritchard Theatre on the campus of Eureka College. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students, faculty & senior citizens and are available by emailing tickets @ (with no spaces) or by calling the box office at 309-467-6363. Audiences should be advised this is an adult story with strong language and mature themes.

Posted April 14, 2015