How did you prepare for this part?
Well, text analysis, of course, and lots of online research. We had just thirty days rehearsal from start to opening, so I did a considerable amount of memorization before leaving NYC. Also, I had a good amount of time after learning I was cast, so I took myself to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Osage County, where the play takes place.
How was Oklahoma similar or different from your expectations?
What I completely expected was the heat; On the plains, the temp was between 102 and 104 the four days I was there. Heat factors heavily in the play, so this was very useful. The people there were incredibly gracious. Complete strangers talked at length about their lives, their town, and shared the remarkable history of Osage County itself. I was surprised to learn that the entirety of Osage County (called, ‘The Osage Nation’) was actually purchased from the U.S. Govt by the Osage Tribe after they were moved off their Kansas territory homelands in the 1800’s. The Fed thought it to be useless land, then oil (gobs, and gobs of it) was discovered. Osage Tribal members became, for a time, the wealthiest group of people in the entire WORLD! Tribal peoples in OK have been intermarried with German, Irish, and Dutch descendants for many generations. This is true for the majority of Osage County residents, it seems; a remarkable number of intermarriages, actually. In reference to the play, I asked if there weren’t pockets of white folks in the county that simply kept to themselves; that just didn’t mix. Who knows if they are there, but no one I spoke with knew of any. So this makes the character Violet, in the play, even more of an anomaly, to my mind. She covers all the windows in the house, which seems to be about much more than just blocking out sunlight!
What have you learned about August, Osage County now that you’re performing it?
I’ve become more aware of how Lett’s portions out quite intimate exposures of each central character as the play unfolds; moments of real fragility. They are introduced to the audience (most of them), as fairly muscular characters.
Why do you think this play has resonated so much with audiences?
In spite of their poor choices and bad behavior, the characters come to be understood emotionally. ‘Every family has one’ (or more), as the saying goes. Then, on an ‘uber’ scale, the play lays a case for questioning our choices as a nation, and how dysfunctional we’ve become. Johnna’s words at the end, which she sings to Violet: “THIS is the way the world ends.” also carries a bit of hope too, I think. ‘The world WILL end this way, if we allow ourselves to be consumed by our current story, but we can also choose to make something of the life we still have left.” The audience has 3 hours to sit with these characters. It’s INCREDIBLY generous writing.
How has also being a playwright informed your acting process?
I’ve more respect than ever for the playwright’s exact words, their stage directions, their punctuation, and knowing that someone sat their ass in a chair for years, probably, to create that. A great many actors, I think, just do not realize is required from playwrights in time, and treasure, to make a good play!
How is the theater community in Pittsburgh?
It’s exciting. Lots of talent here. Companies doing everything from contemporary and classical plays, to wonderful site specific work. I had the pleasure of seeing a vibrant Chekhov Festival produced by PICT (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre). The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is here too.
What is your dream part?
Ranevskaya (Cherry Orchard), Mrs. Alving; (Ghosts), Mrs. Malaprop (The Rivals), and Paulina (The Winter’s Tale), are just a few.
Contemporary: I’d love to play Violet (August: Osage County) some day. I’d love to do Beckett, Pinter, Mamet, and roles in new plays, especially by women. There’s nothing like lifting a character off the page for the first time!
I plan to begin work on adapting a novel.
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