“August: Osage County” stars Broadway actress in Garvin Theatre

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Barbara Fordham (played by Anne Guynn) attacks her mother, Violet Weston (Susanne Marley) after an aggressive discussion at the dinner table. Bill Fordham (Jeff Mills, right) and Charlie Aiken (David Holmes) try to control the fight in a scene from August: Osage County in a dress rehearsal Oct. 11 in the Garvin Theatre.

Emerson Malone, Arts Editor

“August: Osage County” begins with a father, Beverly Weston, played by actor Jon Koons, lamenting the state of his family while hiring a housemaid.

In his opening monologue, Weston says, “The world is gradually becoming a place where I do not care to be anymore,” before vanishing altogether and setting the events of the dark comedy into motion.

“August” is the latest production in the recently remodeled Garvin Theatre on West Campus. The play is directed by Katie Laris, co-chair of the theater department, and premieres Oct. 19. The play, which professor emeritus Rick Mokler has called the most celebrated American play of the last 50 years, features performances by student and local actors, and Susanne Marley, a Broadway actress reprising her role on the Garvin Theatre stage.

“On day one when she came in, she terrified everybody with the strength of her performance as Violet, who is just a toxic and frightening character,” Laris said. “She was able to bring that energy and voice from day one. … It’s an opportunity for Santa Barbara audiences to see a Broadway-level performance.”

Originally written for the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the play moved to Broadway in New York City, where actress Marley understudied the role of the drug-addled matriarch Violet and played the role 60 to 70 times.

The script, written by playwright Tracy Letts (“Killer Joe,” “Bug”), tells the story of the Weston family attempting to cope with their father’s disappearance and their pill-addicted mother in the sweltering August heat smothering the bucolic plains of Osage County, Oklahoma.

“It’s amazingly well-written,” said actress Devyn Williams, who plays the 14-year-old daughter. “Tracy Letts is brilliant. I think it’s very interesting that a play with this much drama has a lot of comedy in it. You find yourself laughing way more than you think you would.”

The characters spiral into insanity with drastic circumstances of lust, power, family, morality and mortality that befall the Weston homestead.

“These people are trying to keep up the pretense of a normal American family,” Laris said. “… Everybody is worried and they all converge on the house to find out what has happened to [the father]. It becomes this huge clash of generation between the sisters and all this stuff comes out. The family secrets emerge over the following days.”

The set onstage shows the Weston home with a front porch, living room, kitchen (equipped with running water), study, dining room and parlor.

The frequent stage combat required foley help from Cathryn Betz, the assistant stage manager.

“Her job is extremely complicated,” Laris said. “The neat thing in terms of work she’s been doing is she really has this real passion for props.”

Betz sent Laris different wedding photos to be displayed in the living room and investigated Oklahoma wineries to get the right bottles on the table.

The play won several theatrical awards for Best Play including the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play previews Oct. 17 and 18. It officially debuts Oct. 19 and plays until Nov. 3.