A Bucket List Checkoff: Playing a Man Named Beverly in “August Osage County”

It’s the opening night for SRO’s production of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy “August: Osage County” here in Columbus, Ohio.  In just a few hours I will appear in the opening scene and perform a ten minute monologue (interrupted by occasional dialogue with two other characters), and then I will be done.  My part is the patriarch in an Oklahoma family who gives the little talk that is delivered in the Prologue to the three act play.  Then he commits suicide and the rest of the show involves his large family trying to figure out why.  The character is named Beverly Weston (yes, “Beverly” is a man’s name in various parts of the United States and Great Britain), and his character is what Alfred Hitchcock called a “McGuffin”: something in the plot that the characters care about but the audience does not. [See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin for more; I think it’s interesting that the bars that are in the lobby of some AMC movie houses are named “McGuffin.”]

Beverly's Family at His Funeral Dinner

John Cullum
In 2008 I saw this play performed on Broadway, and the great Broadway actor John Cullum played Beverly.  He has won two Tony Awards and been in numerous TV shows, most notably in Northern Exposure where he played a French trapper in love with a very much younger woman.  When Cullum was in “August: Osage County” Estelle Parsons was playing the leading role of his wife, and they both had star billing.  That was odd because he’s only in the small opening segment while she is in more or less every scene thereafter.  But they are both big names on Broadway, hence the billing.  When I sat down in my third row seat and the show began, John Cullum poured himself a drink (this is called for by the plot: he’s a drunk), and the smell of Jonnie Walker Scotch came wafting down to my seat.  “Goddamn!” I thought.  “He’s actually having a drink right on stage!  And why not?  It’s eight o’clock, he only has to perform a ten minute segment, and then he can go home.  He certainly wasn’t around for the curtain call three hours later when this long play ends.  What a cushy job!  Top billing, ten minutes of work, a free drink, and home in bed shortly thereafter.  John’s an old man these days.  There have to be perks.

John as Beverly Weston

The ten minute part is juicy: Beverly explains life, his travails with his wife, and conducts an interview with a new housekeeper who will take care of his drug-addicted wife when he is gone.  As he lectures her he drinks, and it’s clearly not his first drink of the day.  It’s all a fascinating vignette, and as I listened to it I thought to myself, “I’d love to play this part some day.”  I immediately put it on my bucket list.

Well, that time has come.  When SRO announced auditions for the play, I attended and was very pleased to be awarded the part of Beverly Weston.  What I hadn’t thought through was how difficult a part it is to memorize as this drunk meanders from one thought to another, talking about poetry, his battles with his wife, the reasons he’s hiring the new housekeeper, an explanation of her new duties, and a brief interlude when his drugged-up wife wanders into and out of the scene.  I made multiple mistakes at every rehearsal until very recently, and I doubted it I would ever get it right.  There’s more: Beverly has an Oklahoma accent and it’s a major challenge to make what he’s saying comprehensible and funny/sad/philosophical as the moment requires  I hope I can do all that tonight when the curtain goes up.

After Beverly leaves the stage the terrific cast SRO has assembled takes over, and they are quite wonderful as they work their difficult way through this fascinating play.  Everything is well directed by Will Macke, himself a major talent.

When I took the role I negotiated with Will for the right not to have to participate in the curtain call each performance.  This means I can perform my part in the Prologue and then go home.  I will stick around for the curtain call on opening night (tonight) and on the two occasions where I will have in the audience either my family or my husband, David Vargo (who, by coincidence, is opening in his own show “Chapatti” at Red Herring Productions tonight, running April 12-29).  My absence normally will not be noted at all.  My character is largely forgotten by the end of the three hour show, and the actors taking bows are the magnificent performers who have brought this play to life for the lengthy evening.

Our play will run for this weekend and then T/F/S/Sunday of next, hopefully playing to large houses.  And then I can happily check this fantastic role off in the relevant column on my bucket list and move on to the next item.

[Addendum:  We opened and the play is going very well.  Reviewers have stressed how very good all the acting is.  Come see us.  All cast members have two complimentary tickets to give away, so feel free to ask any of us for them.]


Related Posts:

“Douglas Whaley, Actor,” August 14, 2010; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2010/08/douglas-whaley-actor.html
“On Stage Again: Acting in Edward Albee’s “Seascape,” February 26, 2014; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2014/02/on-stage-again-acting-in-edward-albees.html

“Opening in Another Play: The Pulitzer Prize Winning “Proof,” February 17, 2018; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2018/02/opening-in-another-play-pulitzer-prize.html


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