By CICELY M. EASTMAN

PUTNEY -- With an ensemble cast of characters that has been described as mammoth and massive, the tragic comedy ""August: Osage County"," directed by Hallie Flowers, will arrive in Putney next week. The Pulitzer Prize winning play was written by Tracy Letts, a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company where "August: Osage County" premiered in 2007 and is presented by The Apron Theater Company and Next Stage Arts Project at Next Stage on Kimball Hill in Putney.

Whereas most plays revolve around the flaws and follies of one character, "August: Osage County" is truly an ensemble in that each of the 13 characters presides over at least one scene -- none are just bit parts, each one bringing his or her own set of baggage and giving life to a dark play fraught with the complexities of an Oklahoma's family relations betwixt three generations -- something that an audience can most certainly relate to at some level. Throw into the mix doses of wise-cracking humor that serve to lighten the seriousness of alcoholism, years of unhappiness, and pill popping to dull the pain and you have an entertaining play indeed.

With a cast considered large by an American drama standard, directing it is a huge undertaking to coordinate even for veteran director and Apron founder Flowers who described the play as massive, not only because of the large ensemble of characters, but because of how the characters interact with each other, the large set, and the length of the play.

Flowers' first hint that the play would be well worth the challenges it presented was the astounding amount of interest by actors who showed up at open call during the audition process, all vying for part in the play.


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She assembled a company of actors to include Keely Eastley, Katrina Spenceman, Mark Bateman, MacKenzie Klem, Julia Tadlock, Chris Parker Jennings, Dan Bennett, Jon Hathaway, Libby McCawley, Ben Stockman, Ann-Marie White, Jonthan Ray, and Falco Schilling. Also on the team are Katia Morosan (Stage Manager), Jonathan Hathaway (set design), and John Todd (lighting design), Vivian Smith (costumes), and Heather Taylor (set painting).

When Patriarch, husband, poet, and alcoholic Beverly Weston played by Falko Schilling disappears, it sets in motion a family reunion during hot August days in Oklahoma.

According to Flowers, the story explores questions inheritance... not necessarily physical things, rather what we carry with us into our adult lives from our experiences with our families... There are roles we have outgrown that we fall into without thought - and the continuing damage of what is withheld. all the members of the cast help set the unique tone of this play, but having worked well with Keely Eastly before, Flowers was familiar with Eastley's laser-focus and powerful presence on the stage, Flowers cast Eastley to portray the mean-spirited matriarch, Violet Weston.

Eastley, who began her acting career at 16, spending 18 years as a professional actress doing regional and off-Broadway work before settling in Brattleboro, has mutual admiration for Flowers, recognizing early on in their working relationship Flowers' high level of professionalism and how they had a similar eye for what she called the ‘truth,' pointing out that even the set itself is true to the times, representing a family that has been together right on down to the salt and pepper shakers.

"The best director I've ever worked with," she said.

Eastley described all of the characters complex, the end result of layers of their family's relationships comprised of a mixture of love on top of wounds, and so is Violet Weston complex, but as Eastley pointed out, while refusing to divulge how the play pans out, not all things are black and white.

When asked what excited her most about this play, Flowers said, "It is a wonderful, ensemble cast telling a powerful story with care and humor. This play is a difficult kind of beautiful."

"August: Osage County" performances take place Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., July 10 to 12 and July 17 to 19 with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, July 13.

Tickets are $12, general admission, available online at www.nextstagearts.org or by phone reservation at: 802-387-0071.

The Apron Theater Company was founded by Karla Baldwin and Hallie Flower. "August: Osage County" is the company's fifth production as the Next Stage Arts Project's "theater-company-in-residence."

Next Stage Arts Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing Putney's cultural and economic village center through the programming, development and operation of Next Stage.

Information about upcoming events, renovation plans and theater enhancements, and a wide range of opportunities for support are available at: www.nextstagearts.org