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‘August: Osage County’ tackles families coping with addiction

Theatre professor, Julie Mollenkamp stars as Violet Weston in an adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "August: Osage County." The production is scheduled to open Wednesday and run through Sunday. Photo by Erin Wides/Features Editor

“August: Osage County” was chosen to be performed at UCM because when doing research for his Ph.D., instructor of theatre, Aaron Scully realized how playwriting and theater can aid in understanding alcoholism and addiction.

This production will be Scully’s directorial debut for the UCM Theatre and Dance mainstage season according to a press release.

In the fall of 2017 the department was talking about their 2018-19 season. Scully said he’s usually not on the slate to direct, however, this year was different.

“They had inquired with me if I wanted to direct and I was like, ‘Absolutely,’” Scully said.

When deciding what play to pick Scully said in his acting class, he had three female actors do a scene from the show and he said as he watched the scene play out he knew they could do this production.

“This play is very much about how addiction cannot only alter someone’s personality and make them somebody that they’re not and bring out the worst in people,” Scully said. “But how it can drive people away, including family and friends.”

He asked professor Julie Mollenkamp her thoughts on doing “Osage County.” He said at first she was hesitant but a few days later she came back and agreed to it.

Scully said from that moment, when deciding with the rest of the theatre faculty, they knew Mollenkamp would play the featured role of Violet Weston.

“It’s what’s known as being precast,” Scully said. “Nothing else was cast but her role.”

Weston is a drug-addled, acidic matriarch, with some unpredictable behavior. Violet’s personality breaks people down.

Photo by Erin Wides/Feature Editor

“August: Osage County” is only for mature audiences due to suggestive dialogue, coarse language and mature themes.

To get into this role, Mollenkamp had some pre-show homework to do.

“As with any role, it’s all there in the text,” Mollenkamp said. “It begins with tremendous text analysis — looking at the language choices, the syntax, what she says about herself, what other characters say about her, what the playwright gives you in stage directions.”

Next she did some research on people who are addicted to downers because Violet takes them whenever she can get them.

“I researched what happens to the body when you take them, what happens when you take two, four, six, eight, 10 — how much to get to an overdose,” Mollenkamp said. “What happens when you go into withdrawal from them so I could engage in those kinds of behaviors as well.”

The show focuses on family, so next she studied relationships.

“I looked into familiar relationships: mother and daughter relationships, disrupted marriage relationships, how infidelity affects a relationship and self-esteem and looking to determine how and why she self-medicates,” Mollenkamp said.

Scully said, as the director, he works more with what the actors bring to him. Mollenkamp’s preparation has helped her come ready to play.

“She has an innate, incredible ability to tap into whatever is needed in each scene. I’m continually impressed by her ability to make different choices,” Scully said. “Every time she plays it, depending on what she is acting and reacting to, she is a great example for the other actors that are in the show to watch and understand what that means to come in, let go, not plan everything and react to the scene.”

Scully said life experience was the deciding factor when choosing to have a faculty member play in this role rather than a student.

“It’s an incredibly difficult role and she is an accomplished actress so she’s acted for a long time. She’s awesome, it’s going to be a sight to see,” Scully said. “Not only that, her supporting cast has risen to the occasion of being on stage with an actress of her caliber and I think it’s made everybody better.”

Mollenkamp said it has been a blast working with the students.

“They’re so gifted and so smart and I learn so much about acting from them,” she said. “I’m reminded how hard it is to be an actor and that alone makes you a better director.”

The play will run Wednesday through Sunday at the Highlander Theater on UCM’s campus.

“Osage County” is for mature audiences only, due to suggestive dialogue, coarse language and mature themes, according to the press release.

Tickets are $7 for students, $12 for UCM faculty and staff and $15 for the general public. They can be purchased online at ucmo.edu/theatretickets, by calling 660-543-8811 or at the Box Office at the Highlander Theater between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

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