Playhouse opens season as cast hits home run with ‘Osage County’

By Eric McCrea

The Youngstown Playhouse began its 93rd season Friday night with the triumphant opening night of “August: Osage County.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, famously adapted for the screen in 2013, is a dark comedy about a highly dysfunctional family dealing with life-changing events. Themes of addiction, mortality and struggle are punctuated with violence and profanity.

When the family patriarch Beverly Weston (J.E. Ballantyne Jr.) goes missing, his three daughters are reunited under the same roof with their mother, Violet, played by Molly Galano, and her addiction. Despite trying to make the best of a horrible situation, Violet quickly dismantles any hope of some peace with unapologetic and harsh criticisms. Tensions boil quickly in the Weston family, and it becomes obvious why it takes a major event to get them all together.

Director Matthew Mazuroski would have a hard time finding a more talented cast.

Galano starred as the prescription-drug-abusing Violet Weston, afflicted with volatile mood swings and persistent vocabulary confusion. Challenging aspects to portray, but Galano was spectacular. She was unforgettably detestable one moment and truly sad the next. Her ability to handle dialogue was especially impressive.

Stephanie Cambro returned to the Playhouse stage as the eldest daughter Barbara. She was able to deliver gut-wrenching rage stemming from guilt of her perceived failures.

The audience was warned not to expect to want to be related to any of these characters, and in that aspect, Terry Shears failed. His portrayal of Charlie Aiken is chipper and amiable. Shears had a charm that was unsurpassable, and his disarming tone felt organic.

In the role of Mattie Fae Aiken, Maria Petrella-Ackley was wonderful. She was fittingly odd, hilarious and intense. She demanded attention and added some bounce to the entire energy of the show.

Laura J. Phillips gave an outstandingly sympathetic performance. She plays Ivy like a soul weary of a lifetime of constantly having to sew her own silver linings. As the sister who stayed behind, she captured the frustration of being stuck.

As the youngest sister, Rachel Katz doesn’t get the most stage time, but she was remarkable with the time she had. She played Karen with great realism and spot-on interpretation.

Candace DiLullo was a dark horse. Her character of Johnna was calm, but she managed not to stick out, despite the complete lack of calm in most of the other characters.

Rounding out this incredible cast were Johnny Pecano as Little Charlie, Nick Mulichak as Bill and Selena Phillips as Jean, each giving admirable performances. Even the smaller parts, played by Brian Suchora, David El’Hatton and Ballantyne were close to perfect.

A breathtaking set designed by Pecano transformed the stage into a home. The attention to detail was echoed in clean lighting designed by Leslie Brown and the aesthetics were enhanced with precise and understated sound, designed by Jude Ambrose Mikulich.

The Youngstown Playhouse is off to a terrific start to the season with this powerful and poignant drama, which is sure to be talked about for years.

“August: Osage County” will run Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For reservations, call the Youngstown Playhouse at 330-788-8739 or visit

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