Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Stage with August: Osage County featuring Estelle Parsons at the 92Y Tribecca

Tomorrow afternoon the 92Y Tribeca is offering a one-of-a-kind discussion. They will host “On Stage with August: Osage County featuring Estelle Parsons” at noon. The discussion will be monitored by theatre critic Peter Filichia, (check out his column, “Peter Filichia’s Diary,” at

In the theatre world, Parsons is currently known for playing matriarch Violet in August: Osage County. Though she did not originate the role, Parsons has garnered rave reviews for her portrayal of the venerable character. The New York Times calls her performance “superb,” and continues to say she “forges her own path into the tortured darkness of Violet’s drug-addled psyche,” likening her presence to that of a “snapping turtle” with “childlike delight.” The website, City Guide Magazine, touts Parsons as a good reason to go see August: Osage County. I personally agree with every glowing review that I came across and, might I mention, also concur with City Guide that Parsons is “looking far younger and more energetic than her 80 years.” New York Magazine even devoted an article on Parson’s physical agility and endurance and how it has a positive affect her August performance.

Parsons is an Oscar-winning actress for her supporting role in 1967's “Bonnie and Clyde” (starring Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway). She has also received multiple Tony Award nominations and was the Artistic Director at the Actor’s Studio for five years until 2003. Pop-culturites may recognize Parsons from her portrayal as the opinionated, meddling mother to Roseanne and Jackie on the popular '90s sitcom “Roseanne.”

Other August: Osage County cast members that will take part in the discussion are Frank Wood, Brian Kerwin and Madeleine Martin. Theatre is Easy is excited to cover this side of the theatre world for our readers. Check out this event and let us know what you think!

Date & Time: Thursday, Feb 12, 2009, 12:00pm, at the 92YTribeca Mainstage, 200 Hudson Street. Tickets are $16.00. call 212-415-5500 or go to for more info.

1 comment:

Le-Anne said...

If you had the chance to see "August: Osage County" within the last 8 months and you thought Estelle Parsons was a spitfire in her performance as Violet Weston, just wait until you have the chance to see her speak in person! Like many of the older and wiser crowd, she does not mince words, makes no apologies, is bold, blunt, honest, and deserves to be. She can say things that sound completely charming only when coming from the lips of someone who has years of experience and the respect that comes along with that. The 92Y Tribeca provided hand-held microphones for their guest panel of speakers, and like a pro, when she neglected to use the mic when answering her first question, with an exaggerated roll of the neck she boomed, “You think I can’t fill a room this small?” and with a laugh-out-loud response from the audience, she had us. Other cast members who joined Parsons in the discussion were Michael Milligan (Little Charles), Kimberly Guerrero (Johnna Monevata), Madeleine Martin (Jean Fordham), Mariann Mayberry (Karen Weston), and the most recent cast member, Guy Boyd (Uncle Charlie), who joined the cast in December.

So many gems were shared during this hour-long discussion, it is hard to believe that it lasted only an hour. One interesting tidbit that Parsons shared is that, in the past, by her own choice, she has never done a play for longer than 4 months but she has decided to stay on with this show for 8 months now. Also, the original cast members shared their thoughts on the newer cast members. Both Mayberry and Guerrero, (who each originated their respective roles at Steppenwolf), commented on how their respective character’s relationships have evolved as new actors come in and interpret their own characters differently. For example, Guerrero commented that originally she felt her character, Johnna, had an unsaid friendship with the character of Uncle Charlie, but the new actor portraying Uncle Charlie does not look Johnna in the eye, so immediately Johnna was redefined. A similar thing is true for Mayberry’s character, Karen, and her relationship with her sisters.

Parsons commented that, when she joined the cast, she purposely tried not to change anything drastically about her Violet versus Deanna Dunagan’s original Violet. Parsons said that she had “the privilege of going into something that works,” which she respects by staying as true as she can to the original interpretation of that character. That is, of course, not to be confused with imitation. Parsons in no way delivers an imitation of Dunagan. Parsons’ own unique take on the character can’t help but shine through, but other things like cutting and coloring her hair the same way and maintaining the same essential character flaws and desires as Dunagan are important to Parsons in maintaining the integrity of the work.

The cast continued to speak on their recent transfer to London. Guerrero and Mayberry both aided in this recent transition. They shared the differences between a British audience versus an American audience. Mainly, that the idea of incest is not as tabu there, and therefore, did not get as big of a reaction from the Brits as it did, and continues to, here. The references to certain poets, like T.S. Eliot were not lost on the London crowd. Also, the British are not big on the standing ovation over there--so the cast were told not to expect any--but by the time they left, they were honored to report, they were accepting standing ovations at curtain call.

Martin, at only 16, is the youngest in the cast and had some amusing anecdotes of her own to tell. I thought it was most interesting that when asked by Filichia, the moderator, if her parents are worried, at all, regarding the smoking or the incest involved in the play, her response was, “No, I’m 16 but I can separate real life from acting. Just because I’m smoking on stage it doesn’t mean I feel like I need to smoke in real life,” which is why, she said, her parents are not worried about a play with incest. They do not, on the other hand, allow her to watch “Californication,” the racy Showtime series on which she plays David Duchovny’s daughter. She is also not legally permitted anywhere on set when they are shooting the sex scenes. Interesting. (I’m sure there’s a bigger comment, somewhere in here, on Americans and our views on sex--I’m not sure what it is--but that is not the point right now!)

The discussion closed with Parsons sharing that at a recent performance she was pleased that a specific line popped out of her mouth in exactly the same, organic, way as it did in her original audition. YES, she did audition for the role--per her own request. Parsons shared that she always asks for an audition. It is only then that she can truly tell if she has an honest feel for the character. It is her watermark, as it were, for a great performance and natural understanding of a character. If, before she has delved into tons of research or umpteen rehearsals, she has an organic response to the words and actions of her character then she knows that it’s a role worth playing. So she was satisfied when, after 8 months of saying the same lines over and over, a line sprung out, instinctually, as it did the first time she laid eyes on it.

Believe it or not, the above barely touches on the many things that were covered in this discussion. The cast commented on the universal appeal of the play and that every family is “dysfunctional” in it’s own right. They all agreed that this Pulitzer Prize winner is a play of importance. Oh, and lastly, Ms. Parsons walks, runs, and or falls over 362 stairs per performance!