Reviews: ‘The Big Meal’ & ‘August Osage County’

august-osage-countyThe unpredictable combustible power of people eating dinner together is prominently featured in two notable stage plays currently running in the North Bay.
Marin Theatre Company’s August Osage County, directed by Jasson Minadakis, is a solid, well-performed, but oddly distant and frequently unsatisfying staging of the 2008 Pulitzer winner from Tracy Letts. Usually presented with detailed realism, this is a deliberately surreal production that emphasizes the family-meal elements of the script by building a massive tabletop structure into the stark, skeletal bleacher-like set.
With a magnificent lead performance by Sherman Fracher as Violet Westin, the ferocious pill-popping matriarch of an Oklahoma clan gathering together after the disappearance of their paterfamilias dad (Will Marchetti), the play is solidly performed by a strong cast of 13. Minadakis’ choice to have the actors pantomime some props is interesting, placing metaphorical emphasis on those props (pills, pot, cigarettes, alcohol) that are real.
But in attempting to turn Letts’ meticulously realistic play into a tone poem about the addictiveness of casual family cruelty, this admirable but unsuccessful production blunts the razor-sharp edges of the playwright’s brilliantly brutal storytelling.
★★★ ½ (out of five)

Dan LeFranc’s high-concept The Big Meal — inaugurating Left Edge Theater’s brand-new 60-seat performance space at Luther Burbank Center — covers four generations in the life of a typical American family, as told through a series of short (sometimes very short) vignettes, all told by a character-shifting cast of eight actors, each and every scene set in a restaurant.
Directed by Argo Thompson, the ensemble show features a superb nine-person cast that includes Sonoma County veteran actors Kimberly Kalember (playing Woman #1) and Joe Winkler (Man #1), along with Sandra Ish (Woman #2), Graham Narwhal (Man #2), Liz Frederick (Woman #3), and Jacob de Heer (Man #3).
All are excellent, playing sweeping arcs of love and loss in a show that is as ambitious in its scope and as it is, unfortunately, a bit lacking in any real payoff or point. Not that life has a payoff or point, which of course, is part of the point of ‘The Big Meal.’ That said, the combined pleasure of seeing so much good acting one stage, in a story about learning to savor life as long as we can, makes this uniquely-told story well worth pulling up a chair for.
★★★★

‘The Big Meal runs Friday–Sunday through Sept. 25 at Left Edge Theater. 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa. Friday-Saturday at 8pm. 2pm matinees on Sunday. $15-$27. 707.823.0177. ‘August Osage County’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through Oct. 2 at Marin Theatre Company. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Times vary. $20-$58. 415.388.5208

This review original ran in the North Bay Bohemian

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