August, Osage County, Oklahoma. Temperatures and temperaments alike are hot, dry and liable to flare up anytime.
Beverly (Craig Hamnquist) and Violet Weston (Anya Corbitt) and their three daughters used to live together in Osage County, but the girls are, for the most part, grown and gone. When Beverly disappears, Violet turns to her daughters for help coping with the loss.
But being back home isn't always easy. Longtime grudges and old preconceptions continue to simmer. And the heat is on.
"I love a good drama," says director Kay Roth. "I love to make audience members feel."
And those who come to "August: Osage County," which runs two weekends in mid-November at Albany Civic Theater, will leave having done just that.
Playwright Tracy Letts' characters are "way dysfunctional," Roth says. "But deep down they love each other, because they're a family."
Roth chose "August: Osage County," her 12th play at ACT, on the strength of its script alone. She has not yet seen either the movie or stage version. It was, she says, the way the characters tell the story that drew her in.
Dawn Draper, Stephanie Lunceford and Dinee Rae play Barbara, Ivy and Karen, the three Weston sisters. Each has a significant other whose relationships become part of the bigger picture, especially because Ivy's boyfriend, Little Charles (Gary Burris), is also her first cousin, the son of Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Sidra Metzger).
Bruce Wells and Alex Asher play the sisters' two other suitors, Bill and Steve. Rounding out the 13-member cast are Karlie Guilliot as Bill's teenage daughter, Jean; Jessica Lenox as Johnna, Violet's caregiver; Rick Hammel as the county sheriff; and Ron Seymour as Charlie Aiken, Mattie Fae's husband.
Seymour, of Corvallis, has "one of the more optimistic, happy characters" in the show, but he, too, struggles with the rest of the family drama.
People often go to the theater hoping for a comedy or a musical, but to Seymour, drama is equally important. It tells the human story in a different way, shows the reality of interpersonal struggles, and provides catharsis — and, sometimes, a sense of relief.
"Sometimes, I think, you walk away and you think, 'Well, I have problems, but I don’t have that kind of problems,'" he said, laughing.
The show's key focus is the relationships between the characters, particularly siblings, but also parents and children.
Roth, the director, warns the show contains "very much adult content," including language and certain situations, and probably isn't suitable for children. "I don't want people coming and thinking they're seeing 'The Brady Bunch'."
As tense as situations get, however, there's humor, too, Roth says. Despite multiple tragedies, that humor pulls both the show and the families together.
The bottom line, she says: "It's OK to be dysfunctional and love each other at the same time. Sometimes it's tough love."