DORSET >> The Dorset Players' decision to mount the upcoming production of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer prize-winning play, "August: Osage County," with Sherry Kratzer as director takes them out of their comfort zone. It's not a bad thing. When we leave our habitual path, the journey into the tangled forest can reveal the light in the dark and the dark in the light in unexpectedly wild, uncensored ways.
Watching the rehearsal of Act One last Thursday absorbed me instantly. Drew Hill's set is deep and dark, a claustrophobic, intimate embrace. The shadows steep and stew in that cauldron of a house. No life within it is unscathed. There's no sunlight for the memories to be examined, much less escape. They recycle into a greater vortex of destruction. Angie Merwin's lighting creates the illusion of a sheen of perpetual sweat. The performances have the indelible stamp of Sherry Kratzer's direction. The actors are woven into a dark intimacy, a shadow world not possible without immense trust created through artistic process and dedication to the writing, and untold hours of rehearsal process. Trust enables the acting of the betrayals, the dis-trust.
The actors graciously gathered on the stage to allow for some questions before they went home. The ensemble had gone through Act One seamlessly, word and dialect perfect. The few pauses for technical adjustments didn't break their concentration or sabotage the emotional tenor. I wanted to know what being in this play meant to them.
Tom Ferguson and Sherry Kratzer have a particularly symbiotic relationship as actor and director. I saw this in "I Am My Own Wife." Tom makes a brief, early appearance in the play as Beverly Weston, co-conspirator in a toxic marriage covenant where husband and wife anaesthetize themselves against each other with drink (him) and pills (her). "I'm happy I just have this one scene — it contains a universe! It's always in the words for me: the struggle, the accent, the age, the drunkenness. So many elements to compress into such a short time." Once his scene is over, Ferguson segues into being the Stage Manager for the production.
"I knew instantly that I would direct this play when Tom gave me the script," Sherry declared. "I didn't want to see the play or the film. I wanted to let the play work its way through my head, make its own vision there. Everyone gets a part in this play. They all push the story along, expose something in each other. Without the men, the women wouldn't express themselves the way they do, have the issues they do."
Christy Erin plays Barbara, one of the three daughters: "This is my most emotional show ever. It's a steady decline into depression and solitude. It's as if the house eats Barbara alive." Greta Schaub plays Johnna, the Native American girl Beverly hires to be Violet's caregiver and housekeeper. This is her third show with the Players. "This theatre has become my home," she said. Zoe Grigsby, who plays 14-year-old Jean, Barbara's daughter, said, "It's a powerful play you can't escape." Todd Hjelt as Deon Gilbeau is a new addition to the Players, a seasoned theatre professional teaching the new improv workshop and is also a fight director. "This has been a great introduction to the space here, and to the people who make it work."
The pivotal character of Violet, the drug-addicted wife and mother dying of cancer is played by Lillian Ray. Physically, vocally, emotionally – her performance is the erratic locomotive pulling the rest of the train into derailment.
"This character has been my biggest challenge," mused Paul Michael Brinker about Bill Fordham, Barbara's estranged husband. "He's the opposite of who I am, how I think, anything I've done. It's very tough, getting closer to Bill, not infecting him with me. I don't know if I'll ever do something like this again." It's Dan Silver's third show with The Players. "It's been my biggest challenge, this play with this talented cast. Sherry's direction gives us freedom to explore, stretch, she calls us out when we're being inauthentic. The set has us exposed all the time." Dan's last comment contains the essence of why this play is inexorably magnetic. The power of the language, spoken and unspoken, raw and unforgiving, creates a theatre experience where audience and actors are enmeshed, exposed, and in for an unforgettable tragicomic spree.
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, directed by Sherry Kratzer, will be performed on May 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., May 22 at 2 p.m, May 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m., May 29 at 2 p.m. This play has Adult Language and Content. You can purchase your tickets online with a credit card at www.dorsetplayers.org, by phone at 802-867-5570 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, or at the Box Office an hour before the show. As Megan Demarest (Ivy Weston) says, "It's a bit of a drive – but it's worth it!"