WCT's August is fresh, dark and funny

WCT's August is fresh, dark and funny

DYSFUNC­TION AT ITS FINEST: Beth Wise (right), with Vonda Newby-Schuster, leads the play as a powerhouse of a terrible person, the tyrannical matriarch Violet Weston.

>SEE IT

What: August: Osage County
When: Until Feb. 15, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.
Where: Wichita Community Theatre, 258 N. Fountain
How much: $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors and military; call (316) 686-1282 for reservations.

On its best days, attending community theater can be a risky endeavor — the volunteer status of a production can lead to unbalanced performances — and the selection of August: Osage County seems particularly risky considering the freshness of its Hollywood counterpart. That said, Wichita Community Theatre, directed by Crystal Meek, has managed to create something fresh for audience members already familiar with the story.

If you haven't seen the film, August: Osage County deals with an Oklahoma clan reuniting over the disappearance of its patriarch; it's darkly funny, honest and unflinchingly foul-mouthed (like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner who just doesn't get that nobody wants to talk about the past).

WTC's Beth Wise plays Violet Weston, the deteriorating and drug addicted matriarch, with such vibrant humanity that I found myself rooting for her above all others. Wise plays Weston so well that she creates empathy for, essentially, the archvillain of the play — now that's powerful acting. The large cast provides performances of varying merit, but few can truly hold up against Wise's brightness.

The most surprising turn comes from Hannah See, a young college student who is playing Violet's 14-year-old granddaughter, Jean Fordham. See captures Jean's young teenage moodiness in a meaningful way in this crucial role that was mostly cut from the film. Jean sprinkles liveliness and hope into a play about a family otherwise hitting rock bottom.

As the characters of August bicker over the bitter failures of their squandered lives, it's impossible to not view See's Jean as the lovely stand-in for their long lost youth. When Violet's sister Mattie Fae (played well by Mary Lou Phipps-Winfrey) reminds her niece Barbara that she too was once young and loved wildly despite now only being "Aunt Mattie Fae," the audience sees how much hope these women once had for their lives.

With a cast of 13 and a run time of three hours (felt like one hour), it's impossible to touch on the best moments of each character/actor (and they all had some).WTC's production of August: Osage County is dynamic: its set and cast work together almost seamlessly, creating a stark portrait of an unraveling Midwestern family.

August: Osage County will run until Feb. 15 with shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students, seniors and military; call (316) 686-1282 for reservations. The Wichita Community Theatre is at 258 N. Fountain in the College Hill neighborhood.