Family turmoil heats up in ‘Osage County’: Prize-winning dark comedy reveals that common problems are all relative

We often think that problems exist in other families and not in our own. Even the most loving and caring families can be destroyed by issues that may creep their way in, such as drug abuse.

Sometimes the deepest pain that one can experience results from conflict with their loved ones. “August: Osage County” exposes this dark side of a Midwestern family faced with conflict, confrontation and confusion.

The winner of five 2008 Tony Awards, including best play, and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this State College Community Theatre production will make its area debut at the Mount Nittany Middle School auditorium starting Sept. 20.

The play was written by Tracy Letts and is directed by Mike Knarr. Featured in the cast are Tom McClary as Beverly Weston, Melissa Brannen as Violet Weston, Amy Farkas as Barbara Fordham, Chris Brannen as Bill Fordham, and Madeline Biever as Jean Fordham.

Originally from Lewistown and a theater graduate of Penn State, Knarr has acted and directed professionally his whole life, working off-Broadway, in dinner theaters, Shakespeare festivals, commercials and industrial videos.

Knarr said he believes this play fits in well with the variety of entertainment that State College Community Theatre provides for the area.

“SCCT’s audience is surprisingly all across the spectrum,” Knarr said. “I think it’s because of the diversity of our schedule; musicals, dramas, and even the black, adult comedy like ‘Osage’ appeals to all ages.”

Originally from Pittsburgh and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in industrial engineering, Brannen became interested in acting in 2006, when her children were cast as Munchkins in SCCT’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I loved being a part of the theater so much that I decided to audition myself and landed the lead role in one of the summer shows,” she said. “Since then I have performed in over 15 productions with the SCCT.”

The action in this darkly comedic play takes place over the course of several weeks in August at the Oklahoma residence of Beverly and Violet Weston. Violet is the drug-addicted sharp-tongued matriarch of the Weston family who is married to Beverly, an alcoholic poet. Violet is addicted to prescription drugs and exhibits paranoia and mood swings. She has alienated herself from her family due to her addiction. She is very self-centered and always sees herself as a victim and blames those around her for her unhappiness. She wants to control her daughters’ actions and emotions, and when she fails to get the outcome she wants, she resorts to verbal abuse.

Brannen said she found the role to be challenging.

“This has been the hardest role that I have ever had to prepare for,” she said. “There is so much thought that goes into every aspect. I’m playing someone who is not only addicted to drugs, but (who is) over 25 years older than my real age.”

“August: Osage County” is a dark comedy that delves into family relationships. We all know that no family is perfect; the Weston family is no exception. Their problems are intensified by mental health and drug addiction.

“Clearly the Westons are more messed up than most families,” Brannen said. “However, I think that everyone will take away some shared experience with one or more of the characters.”

“It’s about survival,” Knarr said. “Whatever happens to you, however dysfunctional the family, you make it through and the process, though painful, can be outright hilarious.”