Feb 27, 2014

[Theater] August: Osage County (Repertory Philippines)

I make a distinct effort to avoid the opening weekend of any theater production. I sort of want to the cast to get through that first run through with live audiences so they can work out the kinks and really grow into their roles fully. I know, I know, they rehearse these things for months at a time. But if you've ever had to take the stage, you'd know that it's a whole different world once you're up there when the curtain goes up and you see the packed house waiting for you to utter your first line.

Admittedly I knew little about August: Osage County other than the fact that it pretty much swept the theater awards for best play across different award-giving bodies including the Tony's and the Drama Desk Awards. But I avoided reading about it since I didn't want to spoil myself in terms of what the story would be about.

Since we bought the Year Pass for Repertory Philippines' 2014 season, it was really just a question of selecting dates for watching each of the shows. And this time around, we ended up catching the show during its opening weekend, since it fit the goal of watching one show a month.


Synopsis: August: Osage County is dramatic play written by Tracy Letts that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play, and the 2008 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, among others. The Repertory Philippines staging of the play was directed by Chris Millado and debuted at the Greenbelt 1 OnStage Theater on February 21 and is scheduled to end on March 16, 2014.

The play begins with Beverly Weston (Leo Rialp) interviewing a young Native American woman named Johnna (Angeli Bayani) for a job as a live-in housekeeper and caretaker. Beverly was once a famous poet and his wife Violet (Baby Barredo) is struggling with the pains of having cancer of the mouth. Beverly is an alcoholic. Violet is addicted to pain pills. In the end, Johnna is hired.

Fast-forward to a few weeks later and it is revealed that Beverly has been missing for at least 5 days now. Family have arrived to support Violet in her time of need, This includes her daughter Ivy (Tami Monsod), he sister Mattie Fae (Shiela Francisco) and Mattie Fae's husband, Charlie (Richard Cunanan). Violet continues to run off scenarios of what might have happened while criticizing Ivy's lack of effort of making herself more appealing to men. In time, Violet's older daughter Barbara (Pinky Amador) arrives together with her husband Bill (Kenneth Moraleda) and their 14 year old daughter Jean (Thea Gloria). As they wait for news of the search for Beverly, more and more family secrets are revealed and things inevitably turn ugly.

First up, the play is long - as in three and a half hours long. And that's still pretty long even by theater standards. But what's amazing is that the play is riveting in its familiarity that you may not notice the time passing. I was practically glued to my seat the whole time as the events of the story unfolded on stage and just dragged us deeper and deeper into the narrative. This is not some light comedy - this is a rather heavy and intense drama that will really make you think as well as feel. But you'll come out all the better for it.

At the center of the play is Violet, as brilliantly portrayed by Baby Barredo. I often find the word gravitas to be overused when it comes to discussing actors and other celebrities, but this is the one review that I think deserves it. Baby Barredo is a powerful presence on stage and the way she brings Violet to life is just amazing. It's a stunning performance, that likes of which few actresses today are able to convey with equal prowess. And I'm amazingly glad that we got to catch one of her performances.

This is not to say that there rest of the cast wasn't equally good. Repertory Philippines really pulled out all the stops in putting this production together. The cast's combined body of work is like a walk through local theater history past and present. I think the only person in the cast that I felt wasn't quite up to par would probably be Thea Gloria, whose performance as Jean was oddly flat and wasn't quite sure if it wanted to be an homage to Wednesday Addams. Oh well.

This is high drama at it's finest, and I can totally understand why some people have called it the soap drama from hell, or something along those lines. It's only because the play feels so familiar and thus becomes all the more powerful. The various characters are terribly human and their flaws seem a lot like things we have seen in our own families - or perhaps even in ourselves.

I haven't felt this emotionally affected by a play since I watched the Atlantis Productions' staging of Next to Normal. And I though it would be a while before I'd catch a local production that could to that. Thankfully, I was wrong and we're all the better for it. For as much as the play is quite the emotional roller coaster as secret and secret comes to light, the story is crafted in way that still leaves part of your psyche intact when the house lights finally come up and you leave the theater.

I really can't say anything more than the fact that this is an amazingly-written play and one that has been beautifully brought to life by Repertory Philippines.

You certainly have a chance to catch August: Osage County while it's still running at the Greenbelt OnStage Theater. I've yet to see Repertory Philippines extend or repeat a run of a show in recent history, so I strongly suggest you get your tickets now. It goes without saying that the show gets 5 pills that Violet slips into her mouth out of a possible 5.
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