Jo Pruden has excelled for years at playing tart-tongued, sometimes downright foulmouthed, "old" women. Allen Cole is equally adept at playing guys whose ingratiating manner conceals malevolent agendas.
These two talented actors are key players in Manoa Valley Theatre’s Hawaii premiere production of "August: Osage County." Pruden stars as the toxic matriarch of a dysfunctional extended family. Cole has an important secondary role as an outsider who plans to marry into it.
MVT has done well in terms of ticket sales in recent years with clever, well-written comedies but has distinguished itself with hard-hitting dramas as well: "Master Harold and the Boys," "Torch Song Trilogy" and "Medal of Honor Rag," to name three.
‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY’
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
When: 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 5
Cost: $30 general admission (discounts for seniors, military and 25 and younger)
Info: 988-6131; www.manoavalleytheatre.com
MVT’s staging of this 2008 Tony Award-winning drama is of comparable substance; factor in the added demands imposed by its length — more than three hours, with two intermissions — and it is in a class of its own. It is a tribute to director Glenn Cannon and his talented cast that the action never drags and none of the many scenes runs longer than necessary.
The dark yet often humorous story begins with the family patriarch, Beverly Watson (Jim Tharp), hiring a young Native American woman to take care of the housekeeping while he deals with his psychologically unstable, drug-addicted wife, Violet (Pruden). Beverly disappears shortly afterward, and the couple’s three daughters come home to help their mother cope. The extended family includes Violet’s younger sister, Mattie Fae Aiken (Patrice Scott), Mattie Fae’s husband (David C. Farmer) and the couple’s emotionally crippled son (Mathias Maas).
Every character is interesting even though most are not people you’d want to spend much time with in real life.
The oldest sister (Bree Bumatai) is caught up in a problematic marriage. Her husband (Greg Howell), a university professor, is having an affair with one of his students; their daughter (Alaura Word) is 14 and out of control.
The middle sister (Becky Maltby) is 44 and has never married — a situation that bothers her mother to no end. Violet tells her daughter repeatedly that men retain their options as they grow older but women simply become "old." Violet’s deeper feelings on the subject drive a significant amount of the action as the story progresses.
The youngest daughter (D’neka Patten) is engaged to a man who promises material security (Cole).
Pruden is superb in a demanding role, swinging from pathos to venom to comedy and hitting the mark each time. Bumatai, another proven quantity, dominates several scenes as a formidable but emotionally vulnerable woman in crisis. Farmer has a great scene leading the fractured family in prayer.
Cole builds on his memorable performances in MVT’s productions of "Gunfighter" and "Frost/Nixon" with his portrayal of Steve Heidebrecht. From the first time Steve opens his mouth, there’s a sense of unease and foreboding. Something is not right about the man.
Cole has a perfect co-star in Ward, who is playing her first dramatic role after a series of small supporting roles or chorus line parts in pop musicals. She slips convincingly into the role of an out-of-control teen who finds a seemingly kindred spirit in her aunt’s fiance. It’s the type of character Tuesday Weld, Yvette Mimieux and Sue Lyon played so well in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
The scenes Ward and Cole share are some of the most compelling in a long and emotionally challenging show.
There are only two problems in the production. Maltby looks much too young to be believable as 44, and Scott likewise looks too young to be Violet’s younger sister. It’s biologically possible for siblings to be 20 years apart, but we know that Mattie Fae is not 20 years younger than Violet.
Fortunately, these two problematic casting choices don’t spoil the dramatic impact of this otherwise magnificent production.