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Fiercely comedic 'August: Osage County' to stir real emotion

By Tehreem Sajjad, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 3, 2013

Meet the Westons: A father disappears on a hot summer night; a pill-popping mother calls her daughters back home; the family reunites. Dinner is served, lies are told and the battle begins once again.

This week, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance is bringing the Westons to Ann Arbor in Tracy Letts’s award-winning play, “August: Osage County.” This humorous drama exposes audiences to the dark side of a Midwestern American family. When Beverley Weston suddenly disappears, his Oklahoma family homestead is transformed into a war zone. Unspoken truths and petrifying secrets surface, clearing out the fog for the reasons the family had originally moved apart.

“(Tracy Letts) writes some very scathing things, but you find yourself laughing at them,” said the director and Professor of Theatre at MT&D John Neville-Andrews. “So even though these people say some rather brutal things to each other and some of them land on the painful side, others find it quite funny.”

Neville-Andrews has over 40 years of experience in acting, directing and producing. For the past 12 years, Neville-Andrews has also been the artistic producer of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.

While “August: Osage County” is the last play to be performed by MT&D for the school year, Neville-Andrews considers it a demanding task for his students.

“It’s a great challenge for the actors,” Neville-Andrews said. “The oldest character in the play is 69 and the youngest is 14. We don’t have any 14-year-old actors in the program and we don’t have 69-year-olds. So, it’s a real challenge for these emerging actors to take these characters from 69 through the 40s and 50s down to 14 and portray them on the stage. We’re always looking for plays and scenes where the age is more appropriate for actors, but for this play, it most certainly isn’t.”

“August” was hugely successful when introduced on Broadway in New York City. It has received positive reviews from notable voices, such as Oprah Winfrey. The play has been recognized internationally and in locations including Israel, Puerto Rico, Australia and Germany.

“I think what makes it really enjoyable — even though the subject matter is rather gruesome — is that these characters are so vivid, so understandable and so recognizable,” Neville-Andrews said. “You get the Mister Nice Guy, until he can’t take it anymore and then he explodes and you get the 14 year old, who looks like she’s very innocent, but she’s not.

“So, it’s looking at these characters and thinking that you recognize them, but then they turn out to be very different. So, they’re very vivid and very much off-the-page and I suppose you’d say in certain circumstances that, ‘they’re really in your face.’ ”

“August” plays with raw emotion and the dark side of comedy while also attempting to connect with its audience through a set of characters that mirror real-life individuals.

“I would really like young people to come see this play — to see how crazy older people can be,” Neville-Andrews said. “You might come from a perfect family, and your family may not have had any arguments. It’s been a perfect sort of lifestyle of everybody in the family. Just come and see this because it will give you another side of the story.”


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