Die after me, all right? I don’t care what else you do, where you go, how you screw up your life, just … survive. Outlive me, please.
Writer, professor and drunk. Beverly Weston is a fading patriarch, a once-famous poet who now spends the days nursing whiskey in a sprawling Oklahoma house, his windows duct-taped shut.
“My wife takes pills, and I drink,” he dryly observes, glass in hand, near the beginning of “August: Osage County.” “That’s the bargain we struck.”
But when Beverly goes missing, the extended Weston clan descends on the old, ramshackle homestead for a family reunion that borders on the apocalyptic.
“This is a big play — dark, hilarious and heartbreaking,” said Andrea Urice, teaching professor of drama in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, who will direct the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama in Edison Theatre beginning Friday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, March 4.
“And, like a lot of family stories, it operates on two levels,” Urice said. “There’s the story of this particular family, but it’s also emblematic of larger things that have been lost in our country. How do you love someone who wounds you over and over and over again? What happens when long-buried secrets pop to the surface?
“And what happens to families that fracture to this degree?”
Buttons get pushed
Set in 2007 outside Pawhuska, Okla., the story centers on Violet, Beverly’s ferociously combustible wife, and their three adult daughters: Barbara, Ivy and Karen.
“Violet is a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking opioid addict who is dying of mouth cancer and sees the weak spots in everyone,” Urice said. “But she’s also funny. She’ll call things like they are. And in her brief moments of vulnerability, you see everything that she’s losing.”
As news of Beverly’s disappearance spreads, the family begins to gather. Violet and middle daughter Ivy are joined by Mattie Fae and Charlie, Violet’s sharp-tongued sister and genial brother-in-law. Barbara, the eldest daughter, returns from Colorado with her estranged husband, Bill, and their precocious teenager, Jean. Youngest daughter Karen returns from Florida with an oily fiancé, Steve. Rounding out the household is Johnna, the young Cheyenne housekeeper, whom Beverly had hired just a few days before.
“It’s a huge, interconnected web of relationships,” Urice said. “When the family gets thrown together, we see what often happens when families get thrown together. Things bubble up. Buttons get pushed. People get ticked off. Eventually Violet crosses one bridge too far, and Barbara — the only one strong enough to stand up to her mother — learns one secret too many.
“This story feels so iconic and American,” Urice said. “It’s like ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ or Sam Shepard’s ‘Buried Child,’ but with better roles for women. These characters are all rich and textured and deep.
“I come from a rural area myself. In a lot of ways, I know these people. But there’s also something mysterious here, something I haven’t quite figured out. The play is always one step ahead of you.”
Author, cast and crew
“August: Osage County” was written by the Chicago-based actor Tracy Letts, perhaps best known to filmgoers as the father in Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated “Ladybird.” His own father, Dennis Letts, originated the role of Beverly in the play’s Steppenwolf Theatre debut and died of lung cancer during its subsequent Broadway run.
The PAD cast is led by veteran St. Louis actress Peg Billo as Violet and Steve Ehrlich, longtime associate dean for academics at University College in Arts & Sciences, as Beverly.
The siblings Barbara, Ivy and Karen are played by Helen Fox, Natalie Thurman and Taya Bokert, respectively. Ebby Offord and Scott Greenberg are Mattie Fae and Charlie, with Camden Sabathne as Little Charles, their rootless son.
Jessy Martinez plays Johnna. Joshua Parrack and Emma Flannery are Bill and Jean. Lucas Marschke plays Steve. Mario Davila is Sheriff Gilbeau, an old friend of Barbara’s now leading the search for her father.
The ambitious, three-level set — which allows scenes to play simultaneously in rooms throughout the Weston home — is designed by Rob Morgan, teaching professor of drama. Costumes are by guest designer J.C. Krajicek. Lighting is by senior lecturer Sean Savoie. Sound is by Alessandra Silva.
Emily Frei is props designer. Stage manager is Amy Soll, with assistance from Abigail Rosen. Assistant director is Anna McConnell.
“August: Osage County” begins at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23 and 24; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25. Performances continue the following weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 4.
Performances take place in Edison Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and $10 for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.
For more information, call 314-935-6543.