Monday, June 30, 2008

Violet Weston is Alive and Alone and Living in Pawhuska

For the heck of it, I decided to take in August: Osage County again (the Sunday matinee on 6.29), this time to see how the play holds up with replacement cast members. Five of the actors, including Tony-winners Deanna Dunagan and Rondi Reed, departed the company on Tony Sunday.

It's sometimes hard to attend a play or musical after a favorite original cast member has left. The actor has worked specifically on the structure and personality of the character, often creating from the bare minimum. Estelle Parsons is now the matriarch Violet Weston, with Robert Foxworth (of TV's Dynasty and Six Feet Under) as Uncle Charlie, Jim True-Frost as Little Charlie, Tony-winner Frank Wood as Bill and Steppenwolf member Molly Regan as Mattie Fae.

The replacements are all stellar; all fitting in seamlessly with the Weston family unit. The only disappointment lies in Regan's Mattie Fae. There was something incredibly special in Reed's characterization, her embodiment of certain lies that provided the audience with an incredibly likable vulgarity. Such lines as "The situation is fraught," "I'm having a cocktail," and "It's my casserole" became special moments for theatregoers. In contrast to Reed's short, stout physique, Regan is younger, taller, thinner and more of a harradin. She still manages to nail the character in points where it counts, particularly in her revealing final scene in the third act. I'm not saying that she isn't giving a good performance, but it is in this character, I missed the original performance the most. Foxworth lends his laidback gravitas to Charlie. Wood has a field day with Bill, proving a volatile replacement for Jeff Perry and scene partner for Amy Morton (who is still giving the performance of a career here). True-Frost provided an endearing Little Charles.

Now onto the star turn. Estelle Parsons is a perfect embodiment of Violet Weston. Comparisons to Dunagan's performance are inevitable; however, Parsons' characterization is steeped in the text and she is never unfaithful to playwright Letts or director Shapiro. She was the actor I really watched the most throughout the play. With an Oscar and an impressive resume, it's the first time she's been on Broadway since the 2002 revival of Mornings at Seven. I've got to say, I enjoyed her from start to finish. With a physicality and appearance that defy her 80 years, Parsons dives in head-first into this mammoth part. Though less acerbic than Dunagan, Parsons manages to go on her truth-telling crusade with a headstrong vindictiveness that is ultimately tragic. Where Dunagan was pointedly sardonic and chilly, Parsons is a bit calmer; presenting a deceptively docile exterior, with a treacly sweet smile more venomous than a sprig of holly. She hasn't quite nailed the second act dinner sequence - she appeared to lose her place during the claw-hammer monologue (with Morton, always the ultimate pro, prompting her back into the scene in a seamless manner, making it all appear as part of the action. Brava, Morton!), but trust me, she'll get there. Parsons made an interesting choice - she constantly stole glances at Barbara in order to gauge a reaction. She also managed to bring down the house twice with the lines "It speaks" and "Scintillating," involving Little Charles burst of courage during same sequence. (Let me also say from an acting perspective how spectacularly Parsons listens onstage).

Parsons' has turned the final five minutes of the play into such a sobering denouement that it hasn't been before (for me). "Listen, you smug little ingrate," which was delivered with a viciousness and manic frenzy that was chilling. The audience was numbed most of all by her acting in the final moments, an almost apologetic and soothing calling out of names, during which panic starts to build, and explodes as she realizes no one is left. For the first time, I welled up during "And then you're gone, and then you're gone..." - one other thing that happened, and I think it was an accident, but after the blackout, there was one last mournful "and then you're gone" in the total darkness that just resonated so perfectly, I wish the play always ended like that.

The audience continues to hinge on every word. Their response was nothing short of cacophonous. If you haven't yet seen this play, get your tickets and go. The play is as strong as ever, and in more than capable hands. I myself can't wait to see Parsons do it again, to see how she grows into the role.

Violet Weston is still here. And I hope she never invites me for dinner.


Esther said...

Wow, thanks for the wonderful report. It's really interesting to read about Parsons' take on the role in such exquisite detail. She sounds terrific.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

TAAL, I'm thrilled to know that the show continues to charm and chill. I'm especially intrigued by what you've said about Estelle Parsons. Thanks for that!

Side note, at Sunday night's premiere of Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, I had a chance to talk to Deanna Dunagan during intermission. May I just say that she is completely endearing and the antithesis of Violet Weston.

Fortunately for any audiences who want to see her in that role one more time for old time's sake and posterity, she'll be heading to London to tackle Violet one more time.

Dorian said...

I'm extremely glad that Parsons is good in the role, as I never did get a chance to see Dunagan (far away. Sad.)

Only two months until I'll (hopefully) be seeing this myself!