WEEKEND: Modern-family epic opens tonight in Port Townsend
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Mark Saran
“August: Osage County,” a modern-family saga set in Oklahoma, opens tonight in Port Townsend. The cast includes, from left with faces visible, Rosa Linda Davies, James Jackson, Judith Glass Collins, Peter Wiant, Sam Cavallaro, Emily Huntingford and Don White. Facing away are Beth McHugh, Michelle Hensel, Sally Talbert and Jennifer Nielsen.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The One-Time Players have two missions: present a great drama and shine a bright light on local students.

And the players — formed last fall by director David Hillman, actress Michelle Hensel and Port Townsend High School drama teacher Jennifer Nielsen — have just about arrived at the big moment: opening night of “August: Osage County,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play to run three weekends on Port Townsend High's stage.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays starting tonight and ending Feb. 17 in the Port Townsend High School auditorium, 1500 Van Ness St.

Tickets, at $12 for general admission and $6 for students and seniors, are available at the Port Townsend Food Co-op, 414 Kearney St.; via www.onetimeplayers.org; and at the door.

The story, about an extended family coming together on a rural homestead in Osage County, Okla., is dark, comic and true to life, Hillman promises.

Tony-winning 'meditation on life'

“August” is an “examination of the American family and a meditation on life” that won not only the 2008 Pulitzer but also the Tony Award for best play on Broadway.

The story “enters on cat's paws and reveals itself not a tabby but a saber-tooth tiger,” added James Jackson, one in the 13-member cast.

The One-Time Players, after deciding to do a benefit for Port Townsend High's drama program — and to upgrade the stage lighting system in the school auditorium — chose this modern-family saga last year and held auditions in October.

“August,” written by Tracy Letts, opens as the large Weston clan gathers in the wake of the alcoholic patriarch's disappearance.

As the tale unfolds, the family wrestles with long-concealed aspects of the past.

It's a play for grown-ups, with content suitable for ages 16 and older.

“This story of aging baby boomers . . . is playing out in real life all across America,” said Jackson, who portrays Bill Fordham, the Weston patriarch's son-in-law.

“I think that is what the title of the play really means: Just pick a month and pick a county, and this is happening somewhere. February: Jefferson County? Look and listen closely, and you just might recognize some of this from your own life.”

Then, Jackson quotes a line from the matriarch, Violet, played by Hensel: “It's about time there was some truth-telling around here!”

Cast of players

The “August” cast includes many of Port Townsend's best-known players and features Lawrason Driscoll, Emily Huntingford, Beth McHugh, Sally Talbert, Don White, Rosa Linda Davies, Jim Guthrie, Judith Glass Collins, Peter Wiant and Sam Cavallaro.

They're together for this one production, a gift to younger members of the theater community.

Nielsen, who plays the role of Violet's daughter Barbara, has taught in Port Townsend schools for more than 15 years, the past 10 at Port Townsend High.

“In 2008, the district cut the drama class. It briefly reappeared in 2010 but then was cut again,” she said.

“We produced a winter show every year,” as well as a spring musical. “One year, we even produced 'Hamlet.'

“When the drama class was cut, I started an after-school drama club with no compensation,” Nielsen added.

In the coming year, she and the students may be able to produce just one show. Nielsen has found a classic for the spring production: the Molière comedy-ballet “The Imaginary Invalid.”

Proceeds from the One-Time Players' “August: Osage County,” meantime, will help upgrade the lighting system — which already is getting attention from a local theater expert and supporter, Ian Keith.

Computerized system

He's been reworking circuits, installing new light bars and taking the system from an old-fashioned dimmer board to a computerized system.

“We would never have been able to afford such an upgrade without Ian's great volunteer efforts,” Nielsen said.

“In the past, the lighting was very unpredictable; sometimes, lights would randomly come on and/or go off during rehearsals and performances. If we raise enough funds, I will also be able to buy new curtains for the stage and some replacement light instruments.”

As for “August: Osage County,” Nielsen offered a light-and-dark summary:

“It's a modern tragedy about a dysfunctional family,” she said, “coming to terms with some hard truths and dealing with old secrets.”

The story “has more humor — pathos — than one might expect.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 31. 2013 6:01PM
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