Playhouse opens its season with 'August: Osage County'

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Those who catch the Mahoning Valley premiere of “August: Osage County” at the Youngstown Playhouse will see “quite an artistic achievement," said Matthew Mazuroski, who is directing the production.

The wrenching but darkly humorous drama won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2008.

It voyeuristically looks into the lives of a middle-class family as it gathers in August at its family home in Oklahoma after its patriarch goes missing. The reunion makes for caustic interactions.

The play was adapted as a film, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, in 2013.

While “August: Osage County” fits perfectly with the time of year, it represents a change of pace for the Playhouse. The South Side theater had been in the practice of opening its seasons with a big and splashy musical that wows an audience.

“This will be a challenge to audiences,” said Mazuroski. “But the play’s power and its dark humor is remarkable. I don’t think there are any theater companies out there who can do it justice the way the Playhouse can.”

As in its original Broadway run, the set will consist of the bare bones of a three-story house, a visual underscoring of the fact that the audience is peering inside something that it shouldn’t be allowed to see. It also parallels the interaction between the family members, who – through years of closeness – have honed their abilities to make each other miserable.

There is a living room and a dining room on the lower level, and a den, a landing area and third-floor bedroom. A staircase ties it all together and becomes a focal point. “The furnishings, like the people, are very three-dimensional,” said Mazuroski. “The house and the family are under a microscope, and it strips away the niceties. It examines the meaning of family.”

The wind-blown nature of the Oklahoma plains are visually reflected in the home, created by Valley contractor Sam Galano. “It has the look of faded wood that has been out in the sun for 20 years – ghostlike,” said Mazuroski. “He created that with a painting technique.”

Veteran actress Molly Galano, daughter of Sam, plays the matriarch of the family. It is a riveting role that calls for experience.

“It is like the King Lear role for a woman,” said Mazuroski. “The age, the seasoning, the sheer stamina required for the roller-coaster that she goes through is spellbinding to watch. There is no one finer [than Galano], but it’s no cakewalk for her.”

The equally daunting role of her daughter is being played by Stephanie Cambro. “She also brings comedy chops to the role,” said Mazuroski.

The entire cast, in fact, is laden with heavy-hitters with tons of credibility. It includes J.E. Ballantyine Jr., Candace DiLullo, David El’Hatton, Johnny Pecano, Laura J. Phillips, Selena Phillips, Terry Shears, Brian Suchora, Rachel Katz, Nick Mulichak and Maria Petrella-Ackley. Stage manager is Rosalyn Blystone.

“Most of these actors would say [‘August: Osage County’] has been on their bucket list,” said Mazuroski. “But you will see these veterans playing characters they’ve never done before. There will be no lying back on common character traits.”

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