Family fights provoke thought in ‘August’

Thursday , August 14, 2014 - 2:12 PM

By AMY NICHOLSON
Standard-Examiner correspondent

We all may wonder from time to time whether the idiosyncrasies of our families are normal, but the characters portrayed in “August: Osage County” take family dysfunction to a new level.

After years of being apart, brassy Violet Weston and her grown children come together to deal with a crisis during a stifling summer in a small Oklahoma town.

Teresa Sanderson, of Layton, stars as Violet, and Ogden’s own Allen Smith plays the town Sheriff, Deon Gilbeau.

“I was so excited when I got cast in this to work with Sanderson,” Smith said. “She is extremely professional and her character work is amazing to watch. I am impressed with her dedication to the character and the choices she makes to figure out the reality of this woman and what logically she would do. She develops the character in a way that makes her so real.”

Smith graduated from Weber State University in theater education in 2005, and has worked for eight years as the drama teacher at Rocky Mountain Junior High.

He wouldn’t change jobs for anything.

“I love being able to work with the creativity of the junior high kids,” Smith said. “In junior high they still love to play. They don’t have the attitude. They are so invested and so interested. Their creativity is to die for.”

During the school year he puts on three shows: a play, a musical, and an evening of one acts written by the students.

But his involvement in theater doesn’t stop there. This is his fifth production outside of school so far this year. Smith appeared in three other shows and directed another.

“I love it,” he said. “I spend as much time bettering myself in the field as I can. What better way to give an example to my students than to be actively involved myself?”

“August: Osage County,” which was the 2008 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama, is the first to be produced in a brand new space in Salt Lake City.

“There is an area for an art gallery in the entryway and a theater performance space. I think they have chosen a great show to start off in that space,” Smith said. “It is going to be a classic piece of theater. A lot of people said it belongs on the shelf with the classics right when it came out.”

Utah Repertory Theatre and Silver Summit Theatre Companies launched a campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise the money needed to build the large set. They were successful in gathering more than $5,000 to create the three-story house called for in the script.

Violet lives in the large house. She suffers from mood swings, paranoia and an addiction to prescription drugs. She gathers her sister, her three daughters and their families together after her alcoholic husband, Beverly, goes missing.

“Violet is a huge personality,” Smith said. “She is probably the most toxic personality in the show. She can’t leave anything alone and she has to make everything canker and fester. She has to get reactions from everyone. My character doesn’t interact that much with her.”

Tensions are running high, and the heat only makes matters worse.

“It is very hot,” Smith said. “Violet doesn’t believe in air conditioning, and all of the windows are sealed shut so you can’t tell if it is night or day outside. You can only imagine how stifling it is.

“My character is the hometown guy. He grew up there and never left. He dated one of Violet’s daughters when they were in high school. They went to prom together. But, right out of high school, she got married and moved away. He also got married, and he stayed.”

Now Smith character is divorced.

“He obviously kept thinking about her (Barbara),” Smith said. “He wasn’t ready to let her go. Here she shows back up years later. He hasn’t seen her since high school. All he knows is she is the one he has thought about all these years.”

His character became the sheriff because he didn’t want to turn out like his criminal father. His father was the preacher’s son and turned to a rowdy life of crime because he didn’t want to be like his father.

“He comes from a rough life,” the actor said. “It is insinuated that there was abuse from his father. I think he is trying to right the wrongs of his past by being sheriff.”

During the course of the show, many painful secrets are revealed and treated with dark humor.

“The characters are sarcastic and insulting to each other. It is a fantastic script and dialogue. You can’t help but laugh,” Smith said.

He thinks audiences will find the characters to be very relatable.

“They are very realistic,” Smith said. “They are trying to hold their lives together and struggling with very real situations like divorce. They are placed in this intense, catastrophic situation, and we see if they help each other cope or if they hinder each others’ coping.”

Smith finds the material to be very thought provoking.

“All of us have our own families. We look at them and ask why is this person like this? Why is that person like that? This highlights that every family has their dysfunctional moments. Do you struggle through as a family? Or, do you just let it go?”

PREVIEW

  • WHAT: ’August: Osage County’
  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m.Fridays and Saturdays, through Aug. 30; 2 p.m. Aug. 24; 3 p.m. Aug. 17 and 31
  • WHERE: Sugar Space Warehouse, 130 S. 800 West, Salt Lake City
  • TICKETS: $18/adv., $20/door; $12 for student, senior; http://thesugarspace.com/category/events
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