AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY by Tracy Letts
PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING PLAY
PRESENTED BY WELLESLEY PLAYERS
“Trying to find a black dress with a pocket is just awful.” Rita Ford is frustrated. “If you know anyone who has one, (size 10), or knows where I can get one, let me know,” she says with a sigh. It might seem odd to someone who knows Rita Ford the actress that this is what’s pre-occupying her, three weeks before she debuts her performance as Violet Weston, the devious matriarch of the Weston family, in the Wellesley Players upcoming production of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY. But in one way, it’s indicative of what her Director, Chip Sheeran, calls her “full commitment” to playing this challenging role. Even the costumes have to be right.
“She very much understands the character,” Sheeran says. He adds that Ford’s ability to maintain the balance “between taking and then relinquishing focus (on her character) when needed,” contributes greatly to the true ensemble nature of the show.” Ford concurs that the 13 member cast is “developing into a family,” and the one-time professional actress, who has worked with the Wellesley Players for some forty years, says she enjoys working with Sheeran, a Wakefield resident who is directing his first show for the Players. “I like Chip’s instincts, a lot,” she emphasizes, “and he’s very energetic.”
Sheeran, who has also designed the set and sound for the production, says he fell in love with the play as soon as he read it. “It’s so tightly written, the arc that the characters follow is very real,” he says. “These are not caricatures. There are lots of personality types, and the audience will recognize them – they are people we know, perhaps remind us of someone in our family, either a current dynamic or how they grew up.”
When the opportunity to direct the play for Wellesley came up, Sheeran jumped at it. “I knew the quality of the shows that Wellesley Players have a reputation for producing, so that in combination with the quality of this piece made me want to direct it. I don’t direct unless I’m passionate about a show,” he emphasizes.
Rita Ford discovered AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY upon seeing it in New York during its 2007-2009 run. She likes the fact that “it’s a play that makes you think,” and of course, “it’s a well-written part for a woman of a certain age,” she says wryly. Ironically, she hadn’t actually decided to audition until a friend suggested it. She had said, not long ago, that after playing Maria Callas in MASTER CLASS and Fraulein Schneider in CABARET for the Players, two of her favorite roles, that her acting days might be over. But with Violet, says Ford, “there are plenty of things in the character that I can identify with.”
Although she has lived in Sherborn for 39 years and was at one time a Wellesley business owner, costume designer, and voice-over artist , Rita Ford, a Cleveland native, began acting professionally at the Cleveland Playhouse while attending the Cleveland Institute of Art. In need of part-time work, she began working with Taffy’s, a local specialty shop for dancers, where, among other things, she designed costumes that appeared in Taffy’s catalogues.
When she became engaged to her first husband, who was a law school student at the time, she left, and eventually the couple moved, with their “two beautiful babies” to Wellesley, in 1966. Not wanting to be far from home, and with the difficulties of finding good babysitters, Ford decided to open a branch of Taffy’s store on Washington Street in Wellesley. It later moved to Linden Street, and she ran the store from 1968-1997, when it was sold to Capezio. It was during this time, about 1968, that she gravitated to the Wellesley Players. Her first musical role, in 1969, was the title role in MAME, being directed by Bill Ford. “He was just divorced, and I was getting divorced,” she remembers, and it wasn’t long before they were married.
Since then, Rita Ford has appeared on stage in more than 35 Wellesley Players’ productions, as well as designing costumes, producing, and stage managing, to name but a few of the hats she has worn for the group. In fact, in 2011 she was presented the American Association of Community Theatres (AACT) award, given across the country to recognize local service to community theatre. She was especially gratified that she was nominated by her peers at Wellesley Players, a group that has given her, as she puts it, “great times and even better friends.”
Now she has taken on the challenge of portraying the complicated, volatile Violet Weston. Joining her to create the other family members in this “darkly comic drama” are an equally talented group of veteran actors, including Harvey Greenberg as Beverly, most recently seen as Norman in ON GOLDEN POND, Mary Ferrara, Angela Rossi and Emma Gruttaduria as the three Weston daughters, Wellesley residents Lois Goodman as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, and Rich Page as Sheriff Gilbeau, plus Michael Turtle, Emily Sheeran, Tom Vittorioso, Nicholas Meunier, Gary Mlinac and Kimberly Truon.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY opens November 1st at the Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box Theater in Watertown, and takes us into the world of the Weston Family, forced to reunite unexpectedly after years apart when the patriarch, Beverly, mysteriously vanishes. Three generations of Westons come together at the family homestead in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, near Tulsa, ostensibly to comfort and support Violet, Beverly’s wife and the matriarch, but instead the gathering unleashes a maelstrom of repressed truths and unsettling secrets that will rock this middle-class Midwestern family to its core.
Written by Tracy Letts, himself a Tony award-winning actor, the author describes the play as the “multi-generational conflict that inevitably arises when Those Who Have Nothing have willed their pride and guilt to Those Who Have Wanted for Nothing.” AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, says Letts, “is my attempt to explore this generational schism and the Midwestern sensibility.”
Letts, who says he takes inspiration from writers such as Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, has described himself as “hot blooded. I like stuff that has heart and fire and passion to it.” He had a “deliberate desire,” he says, when he wrote AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY to write for an extant acting ensemble, and thus the play debuted at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, of which Letts is a member, before going to Broadway in 2007. It won the Tony Award for Best Play of 2007 and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
On its opening on Broadway, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY “theater that continually keeps you hooked with shocks, surprises and delights, although it has a moving, heart-sore core….the list of pathologies afflicting one or another of the Weston family is seemingly endless, and in some ways, wearily familiar. But Mr. Letts’antic recombination of soapy staples is so pop-artfully orchestrated that you never see the next curveball coming, and the play is so quotably funny, I’d have a hard time winnowing favorite lines to a dozen.”
AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTY, by Tracy Letts, produced by the Wellesley Players, runs November 1 – 10th at the Black Box Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, 02472. Performances are Nov. 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm on Nov. 3, 9 and 10. Tickets are $22 general admission, and $20 for seniors/students. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.wellesleyplayers.org