coverAugust: Osage County can be an intimidating story. It is an intense drama about a dysfunctional family, and it is playing onstage at the Gilbert Theater through Feb. 12.

Anyone familiar with the story will recognize that the subject matter is intense and uncomfortable because it is so relatable. However, these uncomfortably intense stories are some of the most important ones to tell.

“A huge part of the Gilbert mission is to present work that is thought provoking and out of the box. This play is the kind of play the company was built on,” Robyne Parrish, artistic director and co-education director for Gilbert Theater said, “I am excited by this play because it is a truthful look at family dynamics. Families can be crazy! We all know that! There is a lot of love and a lot of laughs in this play, and everyone will be able to identify with one or many of the characters.”

For the show’s director, Greg Fiebig, the uncomfortable realism of the show is important but balanced. “The play is in the manner of realism. Realism is not always nice and neat with an upbeat resolution at the end. So in that sense, August: Osage County is dark. But honestly, Tracy Letts, the playwright, has unique ability to find humor in the most unlikely places,” he says, “As dark as the show may be, the audience will be entertained and for those who are engaged in the story, there is hope!”

Just as the heavy material in the show can affect the audience, it can pose a challenge to the cast of the show as well. They spend hours upon hours working with these characters’ stories and emotions. “Truth be told, I prefer plays to musicals, and drama to comedy. So, the show is not that difficult for me. I was initially concerned about the cast playing such emotional roles, but the cast is great and understands the concept of aesthetic distance. While aesthetic distance often refers to an audience’s ability to separate reality from make-believe, I think it applies to actors as well. The stories we are telling are someone else’s, not ours. As long as we approach the acting and storytelling from that perspective, the emotions are understood to be make-believe,” Fiebig said.

Fiebig also has some advice for audience members unfamiliar with the story before they come to the show. “Do a little research before coming to see the show,” he says, “You might even watch the movie version, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, although I promise you will enjoy our live theatre production as much, or even more. There is something about the immediacy of live theater that gets lost in film. Themes of the show include: stereotyping, mother and daughter relationships, interpersonal and family conflict, addictions, etc. The main takeaway from the show is essentially that we reap what we sow. The characters are believable, the dialogue intriguing, and the action compelling.”

This season at the Gilbert Theater marks the fifth and final season for Parrish, who is headed to Pittburgh to pursue other opportunities. “It’s been an honor to steward The Gilbert for these many years,” Parrish said in her departing announcement. “This will be an exciting final season. I have worked vigorously with the board over the last six months to find what we feel is the best replacement moving forward. Matthew Overturf has been a wonderful addition to our company in both talent and administrative skill and after much deliberation, the search committee and the board feel that Mr. Overturf is the perfect fit as the Gilbert moves forward and continues to grow. The addition of Meghann Redding as Executive Director will create a power team for the future of the Gilbert!”

The search committee conducted a nationwide search before choosing Overturf as Parrish’s replacement, interviewing several applicants in the hiring process.

Overturf came to Fayetteville from Arkansas in 2014 where he worked as a successful theatre educator, actor and director working both at the high school, community and regional levels. His educational background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre from Southwest Baptist University (2007) and a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from Arkansas State University (2014). His theatrical training also includes work through the Theatre Squared, a professional development program in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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