The Ritz Theatre of Haddon Township has gone all out for its production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.” The stage has been expanded to accommodate the amazing multi-room, tri-level set. The cast is made up of top-notch Ritz actors, some of whom have been with the 28-year-old theatre group since its creation: Producing Artistic Director Bruce A. Curless, Ginna Higgins, Susan Dewey, and Maureen Corson. In fact, all but three of the remaining actors have been in previous Ritz productions.
The play itself is not a pleasant one, although it has some darkly comedic moments. It deals with a highly dysfunctional Oklahoma family, the Westons. The matriarch, Violet (Higgins), is addicted to pills and has mouth cancer, which has not affected her razor-sharp tongue. Her unsympathetic treatment of her three daughters (Corson, Megan Ede, and Casey Williams-Ficarra), who all have romantic or marital troubles, is perhaps explained by the story she tells of her own mother’s cruelty. Her husband, Beverly (Curless), once a celebrated poet, is an alcoholic.
The acting, under the direction of Esther Flaster, is superb. Curless gives a moving performance as the gentle, bookish Beverly, but unfortunately he appears in only one scene. Higgins is a formidable presence as Violet, whose strong will threatens to destroy her family and herself. Dewey, as her sister, Mattie Fae, is likewise rude and unsympathetic to her husband and son. Two of the few “nice” characters, who provide a welcome respite from the general meanness, are appealingly portrayed by Alex Wilkie as the local sheriff, and Merri Rashoyan as Johna, a young Native American woman hired as a live-in cook and caregiver to Violet. There is not enough room to name everybody, though all are deserving of praise.
Finally, do not let the “unpleasantness” deter you. Some of the greatest playwrights, including Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, were not known for sweetness and light. If you want to see great acting, this is for you. But, considering the very adult situations and language, don’t bring the kids.
“August: Osage County” runs through October 12, 2013. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 PM. Sunday matinees are at 2 PM. Two Wednesday performances are scheduled for September 25 and October 9 at 7:30 PM.. Tickets are $22.50 and $33.50, plus a $2.50 historic preservation fee. They can be purchased at www.ritztheattreco.org or by calling 856-858-5230. The Ritz is located at 915 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township, NJ 08137.