Pensacola Little Theatre usually isn’t known for plays that come with warning labels. However, when the chance to stage the 2008 Pulitzer-winning “August: Osage County” came about, the community theatre took the risk.
Written by Tracy Letts, the play is about a dysfunctional family reunited after the patriarch goes missing for five days. The play has funny, though dark, moments, and ultimately reveals a family at its worst and theatre at its best.
“It’s good, quality writing,” said David Matthews, who plays Bill Fordham. “It reflects humanity in an honest way.”
The play is directed by Lynn Haven resident Gordon Goede. He has been involved with theatre for 50 years and says “August: Osage County” is both easier and more difficult than other plays he’s directed.
“It’s easier because it’s a good script,” he said. “It’s more difficult because it’s like separating the colors of a watercolor and putting them back together again.”
Michael Jordan plays Beverly Weston, the alcoholic and former poet who disappears and sends the family into a downward spiral. Jordon, another Lynn Haven resident, decided to stay in Pensacola for the duration of the play. Prior to his acting hobby, the Vietnam Veteran was a university professor.
“You don’t get these opportunities often,” Jordan said of the play.
Jordan and Goede have worked together before in the Theatre Three Reparatory Company in Fresno, Calif., which Goede founded.
“He’s great as a teacher and a coach,” Jordan said.
Although they battle it out on stage, there is camaraderie between the actors. The relationship the actors have with Goede is also lighthearted. The director shares a few laughs with Matthews in between answering questions about the play—“I love you, man,” Matthews calls out—but when it’s time to get to work Goede isn’t afraid to give short commands.
“I can be a coach, director or a friend,” Goede said. “But I cannot be any at the same time.”
The challenges of the play aren’t in the foul language—within 10 minutes of rehearsal there are a few f-bombs—or the sexual and drug-addled story lines. It’s in the cruelty of some of the characters.
Carol Kahn Parker plays Mattie Fae Aiken, a mean woman to say the least. Parker said she modeled her performance after someone she worked with.
“I can’t find any redeeming qualities about her,” Parker said about her character.
Her daughter, an actor in Los Angeles, saw the play when it was on Broadway and immediately told her mother about it. When the play made its way to PLT there was no doubt Parker was going to audition.
“I read somewhere that this play is ‘catnip for actors,’” she said. “Rarely do community theatre actors get to perform work with this much value.”
Norm Boyd plays her husband, Charlie Aiken who suffers through Mattie Fae’s badgering.
Boyd said that “August: Osage County” is completely different from the 45 plays he’s been in over the past 20 years; he even compares it to plays written by Tennessee Williams.
“It’s a real gut-wrenching slice of a very pathetic family,” Boyd said.
Maybe your family doesn’t have a secret, illicit affair or drug addictions buried deep in the family history, but there are relatable aspects of the play. No family reunion is drama-free.
“I think some of us can relate to some of the characters,” said Carla Rhodes, who plays Ivy Weston, one half of a secret affair. “You’ll find pieces like the bickering and interrupting and relationships between people relatable.”
The fact that PLT took this play on, says a lot about the community theatre. It’s not just trying to sell tickets, but it’s run by people who are passionate about the stage.
“It’s a powerful statement that Pensacola Little Theatre is taking on these kinds of plays,” Jordan said. “It’s very important that we do these kinds of things for the community.”
“August: Osage County” will only get more popular after its PLT debut on Friday, March 2. Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep will be starring in the movie adaptation, which is due out in 2013.
Whether or not you’re comfortable with hearing swear words and references to drug use in the Pensacola Little Theatre, anyone who loves the stage and a good story will be entertained.
“I don’t like to offend, but I do like to teach,” Boyd said. “Hopefully, we teach the audience that when you look at the outside of a house, families or culture, you don’t know what’s inside.”
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
WHEN: March 2-4, March 8-11 Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows start at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Pensacola Little Theatre, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $14-$30, all tickets are half-off March 8
DETAILS: pensacolalittletheatre.com or 432-2042