By Lynn Venhaus

Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” retains all its dark edges, biting wit and unflinching truths in a brilliantly acted and thoroughly engrossing interpretation by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis that enhances its stature as one of the great American plays.

Produced 17 years after its blistering and probing landmark premiere at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 2007, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play taps into the raw emotions of a family scorched by addiction and dysfunction.

A brittle mosaic of family dynamics exposes how nearly all have been burned by their white-hot proximity to drug abuse, emotional abuse, alcoholism, unhealthy relationships, and mental health issues.

(I think more people can relate than may admit, but also the play can be triggering for some, so warning, and understandable; there are resources to call listed at the Rep.)

To play these distinctive, damaged characters, this seamless large cast (13!) has developed an admirable rhythm with each other that shows facets of their personalities while revealing their vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms. They are fooling only themselves (and are they that unaware?)

Ellen McLaughlin is Violet Weston. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Because of Letts’ extraordinary insight into the human condition and his exceptionally nimble dialogue, these are some of the meatiest roles of the new millennium.

“They” always say write what you know, and Letts based this play on his maternal grandparents. Charlie Chaplin once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot,” and Letts knows that all too well. He is also a gifted humorist, seeing life from both sides.

A window into his family’s soul, Letts skillfully outlined characters that these well-cast current actors have shaded into fully dimensional people that make us think, feel, and connect – and recoil, disengage from, and are horrified by, too.

The ensemble does not strive for black-and-white definitions, but rather leans towards the more fascinating gray areas, which make their thoughtful, layered performances convincing.

Front and center is the ferocious, drug-addled matriarch Violet, who reminds everyone ‘nothing gets by’ her but is often in such a stupor from popping prescription painkillers that she is most unpleasant to deal with in any meaningful way. Suffering from mouth cancer, she is also a heavy drinker and smoker. Her paranoia and mood swings are alarming, and she often cruelly targets anyone in her radar.

The Westons and Aikens. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Sometimes, she waits until she can unleash the hurt for maximum effect. Ravaged by her demons, visible are the metaphorical open wounds from an impoverished, abusive childhood that will never heal.

Ellen McLaughlin’s virtuoso performance as this complicated wife, mother, sister, and vicious addict left me in awe. She flawlessly bristles with various degrees of impairment, then rambles or snipes, all in a rural Southwest accent. She’s haunting and unforgettable, among the pantheon of astounding actresses who have graced The Rep’s thrust stage.

The role, in many ways, can be compared to Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s magnum opus “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” published posthumously in 1956, which dared to address a matriarch’s addiction and its ripple effect on a family.

The main story is that Violet’s husband, Beverly (Joneal Joplin), an alcoholic poet and former college professor, has gone missing. Their 30-year toxic relationship has resulted in two of their three daughters escaping to live elsewhere –Barbara (Henny Russell) in Colorado and Karen (Yvonne Woods) in Florida. Ivy (Claire Karpen) stayed in their small town but lives on her own.

After several days go by, family members return to the fold, with fireworks ensuing in a large country home outside Pawhuska, Okla., 60 miles northwest of Tulsa. The time period is a hot dusty August 2007.

Henny Russell and Michael James Reed. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

The adult daughters are played by three equally strong actresses, and even if you didn’t know what order they were in, you’d figure it out quickly – Barbara, the controlling eldest can’t keep her own life from falling apart (fight); Ivy, the unfulfilled middle child (froze); and self-absorbed Karen (flight). They are all keeping secrets about their relationships. Their family hierarchy roars here.

Barbara is separated from Bill (Michael James Reed), a college professor whose infidelity has caused a riff, but they are going through the motions in front of the family. They have brought their 14-year-old daughter Jean (Isa Venere) along, and she’s ready to burst out of a cocoon like most teenage girls.

In a mother-daughter chat, Barbara wisely tells Jean: “Thank God we can’t tell the future, or we’d never get out of bed.” It’s just one of Letts’ lines of astute dialogue that the audience responds to, recognizing themselves.

Bill is an ingrained family member, clearly respected by Violet, and considered a rock by others, and Reed straddles that turmoil without losing Bill’s humanity. Tightly wound Russell immediately indicates Barbara’s lifelong pattern of confrontations with her overbearing mother.

Breezing in from Miami, flighty Karen has a new fiancé in tow, thrice-married Steve (Brian Slaten), giving off a vibe as a player — yet Slaten takes his time bringing out his inner creep. Woods, as Karen, appears to not grasp the seriousness of the family’s despair (or is unwilling to do so).

Sean Wiberg and Claire Karpen. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Introverted Ivy shields her personal life, and Karpen heartbreakingly expresses how disconnected she is from her sisters. Violet is always finding fault with her actions and appearance.

The Aikens arrive, and they are the Westons’ extended family. Hardened Mattie Fae (Astrid Van Wieren) is Violet’s blustery sister, and she’s nagged Charlie (Alan Knoll) over the years. He’s a decent guy who puts up with a lot, valued Beverly’s friendship. Their downtrodden son, Little Charles (Sean Wiberg), incurs Mattie Fae’s ire at every opportunity while Charlie sticks up for his sensitive boy.

Van Wieren and Knoll are remarkably sturdy in their roles, bringing out qualities I hadn’t noticed in three prior productions. Knoll is the lynchpin here, and it’s such a deftly delivered performance, crisp in its comic timing, and gut-wrenching in its ruefulness. Long a veteran actor, this just may be Knoll’s finest hour (or three).

Van Wieren may look familiar if you have seen “Come from Away” on Broadway (or the Apple TV+ filmed production) – she played Beulah starting in 2017. She shows how loudly Mattie Fae’s buttons are pushed, but also why she’s like she is.

The observer here is quiet but smart Johnna (Shyla Lefner), a kind and considerate Native American woman from the Cheyenne tribe, who Beverly hired as a live-in housekeeper. She becomes a steadfast, reliable presence, witness to the never-ending dramas, and intervening only when necessary. Nonjudgmental, she endures Violet’s haughty diatribes and harsh commentary.

Henny Russell and Isa Venere. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

In the brief role of Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Barbara’s old high school boyfriend, David Wassilak, makes it his own with clear-eyed compassion.

This cast is so riveting that you do not feel the play’s 3-hour and 20-minute runtime. When the second intermission happened, I thought “already?” That’s how enthralling this show is.

Directed by Amelia Acosta Powell, she understands the agitations and anguish of this family, and brings out the many levels of pain. There is a specific ebb and flow she achieves, and what culminates in the disruptive family dinner post-memorial service is one of the all-time jaw-dropping segments in live theater.

I do have a few quibbles about blocking, particularly building intensity between Barbara and Violet – I prefer a closer proximity to be more effective, but it shows how a family that ignores the elephant in the room will always have it blow up in their faces at some point.

The Americana musical interludes composed by Avi Amon help establish the setting, while Amanda Werre’s smooth and perceptible sound design is her customary top-notch work. At first, lighting designer Xavier Pierce’s work was too dark, but gradually evened out according to the action, and the shadows are an extension of the house’s buried secrets.

Venere, Russell, Reed and Brian Slaten. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

Scenic Designer Regina Garcia fashioned a large interior, with some exterior nooks, using classic American furniture, but the shingles on a portion of the rooms inside were puzzling (I know, imagery, not literal)..

Sonia Alvarez’s contemporary costume design for casual attire suits the characters and the period, and the mourning outfits are spot-on, especially Violet’s black dress – reflecting what she used to look like before hard living took its toll. Noteworthy is Alison Hora’s wig design too.

Also notable is Michael Pierce’s fight choreography and Rachel Tibbetts’ and Will Bonfiglio’s intimacy coordinator work.

Shakespearean in tone and temperament, but truly an American masterpiece for the 21st century, Letts’ ruminations on life’s passages, aging, blood ties, and identity above all reflect on humanism.

While families can pour their own gasoline on deep-rooted issues without any assistance in real-life (and there are those who don’t see the need to pick at the scabs of their past), this retelling has an energy and an electricity that only the most genuine experiences can achieve, catharsis optional.

Letts has superbly blended the sharp wit of an observational humorous sitcom/stand-up special with the emotional turbulence of lively soap operas to expertly craft a relatable family in crisis.

Gloria Steinem said, “the healing is in the telling,” and it is my hope “August: Osage County” reaches people who may be in a painful place, who may leave with a modicum of hope, because if anything, we are not alone.

And no matter how regretful or defeated others are by their actions, the play says they are not us, and that trajectory can change. The Weston-Aiken clan holds a mirror up that is sharply in focus.

Shyla Lefner, McLaughlin and Russell in front. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “August: Osage County” from March 19 to April 7 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis.

Tickets: Purchase tickets online at, by phone at 314-968-4925, or The Rep Box Office will also be available for in-person support at the Loretto-Hilton Center Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and 2 hours before curtain.
Rush Tickets: Available for students, seniors, educators, and theatre professionals by calling the Box Office at 314-968-4925, 1 – 2 hours prior to curtain time.

Audio-Described Performance: Thursday, April 4 at 7 pm – the show will be described for patrons who are blind or have low vision.

ASL Performance: Saturday, March 30 at 4 pm – the show will be signed for the deaf or hard of hearing.

Open-Captioned Performance: Sunday, April 7 at 2 pm – an electronic text ticker displays words being spoken or sung onstage.

Post Show Discussions follow Saturday, March 30 at 4 pm and Wednesday, April 3 at 2 pm performances.

New season reimagines the theatre’s production model with a mix of self-produced and co-produced productions, special limited engagements, family friendly performances, and the return of the acclaimed holiday spectacular, A Christmas Carol 

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has announced its 2023-2024 season, which includes a mix of world-class self-produced productions that have made The Rep one of the premier regional theaters in the country, alongside co-produced and presented theater works from the most exciting emerging and established voices in American theater across a wide range of genre, thought, and lived experience. 

The Rep’s new shape for its season offers four mainstage shows, a returning holiday classic, two limited engagements, two family-friendly shows, and a continuation of its community and educational programming to provide different experiences for the full spectrum of the St. Louis community.  

Beginning in fall 2023, The Rep will bring award-winning, critically acclaimed plays to its mainstages at the Loretto-Hilton Center and Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA (Center of Creative Arts) including Ben Power’s adaptation of Stefano Massini’s TheLehman TrilogyTwisted Melodies, written and performed by Kelvin Roston, Jr.; the Lookingglass Theatre Company’s adaptation of Moby Dick; and Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County.

The theatre will also host limited engagement presentations of The Greatest Love for Whitney: A Tribute to Whitney Houston created by Mark Clements, and The Lion, created by Benjamin Scheuer. 

“The new season will build upon The Rep’s decades-long tradition of artistic excellence as a leading voice in the region by spotlighting a myriad of the best and most exciting voices in theater to tell the 21st-century American story, and by pioneering an arts model which can be replicated to meet the challenges that face the industry at-large,” said Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.   

Sharif added, “The pandemic and its aftermath have radically reshaped our industry. In order to create a sustainable model on which to build towards the future, we took an innovative approach to this new season that has opened a new world of exciting opportunities for The Rep and our audiences. We are building bridges and collaborating more than ever before with our peers across the country and deepening connections with our community to give everyone a stronger curatorial hand in their experience at The Rep. We look forward to embarking on this next phase of The Rep that will give us the flexibility to continue to meet the needs of St. Louisans and anchor our position as a cornerstone arts organization in the region.” 

Additional season highlights include the return of the spectacular and much lauded holiday show A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens classic that has quickly become a festive holiday tradition for St. Louis area families. Support for A Christmas Carol is provided by The Berges Family Foundation. 

The Rep will also continue to create touring productions for young audiences and families as part of its Imaginary Theatre Company, with an adaptation of Pat Mora’s book Tomás and The Library Lady by José Cruz González, based on the life of Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera, and Puss in Boots, a musical version of the popular fairytale. 

The Rep’s new season builds on its previous three under the leadership of Hana S. Sharif and Danny Williams, Managing Director, who have worked closely together to bring well-crafted theatrical experiences and impactful learning initiatives to the community. 

“The Rep offers our community a creative hub where everyone feels welcomed and valued through programming and performances that represent diverse audiences and their lived experiences,” said Danny Williams, Managing Director. “This past season we were delighted to see a wide array of patrons from across different generations and cultures join us at the theatre, and we look forward to continuing to reach new audiences while welcoming back those who have supported us over the years and decades, with a wide array of world-class theatrical experiences that will captivate and challenge audiences.” 

The Rep will stage its productions across two theaters this coming year—the Loretto-Hilton Center and the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA—providing a variety of opportunities for audiences from across the city and the region to experience theater on different scales from large, show-stopping productions to more intimate experiences.  

The Rep will also continue to offer its Learning and Community Engagement (LACE) programs that provide people of all ages opportunities to deeply engage with the art they see on stage through immersive in-classroom and extracurricular learning opportunities, public forums for civic discourse, and opportunities to participate in the artmaking process. The Rep will announce its community and educational programming over the course of the coming year. 

Find a full schedule of the 2023-2024 season programs below. Subscriber renewals begin May 8, 2023 and new subscription purchases will be available starting June 1, 2023. 

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.repstl.orgor call the Box Office, Monday – Friday from 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at (314) 968-4925. The Rep Box Office will also be available for    in-person support at the Loretto-Hilton Center, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 2023-2024 Season  

For tickets, accessibility, and visitor information, visit

Tony winner for Best Play 2022, “The Lehman Trilogy”


The Lehman Trilogy 
Winner of five Tony Awards, including best play! 

September 5 – September 24 
Loretto-Hilton Center 
By Stefano Massini 
Adapted by Ben Power 

Experience this epic tale of one family’s passionate pursuit of the American Dream and the piercing cost of greed, excess, and unbridled power. In 1844, a young man from Bavaria, along with his two brothers, arrived in New York City, full of hope and ambition. Over the course of two centuries, their family business grew to unimaginable heights and ultimately collapsed into bankruptcy. A can’t miss masterpiece that The Guardian calls “a kaleidoscopic social and political metaphor.” 

Twisted Melodies 
Based on the life of St. Louis soul music icon Donny Hathaway. 

October 3 – October 22 
Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA 
Written and Performed by Kelvin Roston, Jr. 

This powerful one-man show is based on the life of St. Louis soul music icon Donny Hathaway. Twisted Melodies is an immersive and crushing play about the brilliant singer and composer’s compelling inner struggle. Torn between the muses that inspire him and the mental illness that torments him, Hathaway evaluates his life in a gripping performance by St. Louis native     Kelvin Roston, Jr. 

Moby Dick 
Soar to new heights in this acrobatic and theatrical spectacle!  
February 6 – February 25 
Loretto-Hilton Center 
Adapted & Directed by David Catlin  
From the book by Herman Melville 

Madness, obsession, and bloodlust take harrowing flight in a thrilling revision of Melville’s masterpiece. Captain Ahab’s hunt for the great White Whale soars to new heights through an exhilarating acrobatic and theatrical spectacle that invites audiences into the heart of the action. This adaptation from Lookingglass Theatre Company brings a literary legend to life in an experience that’s both visceral and evocative. 

August: Osage County 
A Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning family drama. 

March 19 – April 14  
Loretto-Hilton Center 
By Tracy Letts 

This Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning family drama paints a stark and often unflattering picture of the Midwestern family. In this tableau: the pill-popping and manipulative matriarch, a vanished patriarch, and three daughters with secrets of their own. Familial tensions rise when all are called back to the family home in Oklahoma. Equal parts heartfelt and heart-wrenching, this story gives an in-depth look at what it takes to keep a family together. 


Special two-week performances with extraordinary talents that everyone will be talking about! 

The Greatest Love for Whitney: A Tribute to Whitney Houston  
Inspired by the phenomenal voice that changed music forever. 

January 18 – January 28 
Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA 
Created by Mark Clements 

Whitney Houston’s breathtaking voice skyrocketed her to stardom. From her powerful anthems to her glamorous elegance on the silver screen, she became an unparalleled icon. The Greatest Love for Whitney celebrates her amazing career and legacy by taking audiences on an unforgettable journey through her record-setting hits. Featuring songs like “I Will Always Love You,” “Saving All My Love for You,” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” experience the magic of the woman who changed music forever. 

The Lion 
One man, six guitars, and a transformative story. 

February 8 – February 18 
Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA 
Created by Benjamin Scheuer 

One man, six guitars and a transformative story. Benjamin Scheuer brilliantly weaves together heartfelt monologues and original songs to take audiences on his own true coming-of-age story. Hailed by critics as a “wondrous” and “spellbinding” experience, The Lion is a story about courage and the music it takes to find it. 

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

A Spectacular Holiday Tradition Your Family Won’t Want To Miss! 

A Christmas Carol 
A St. Louis tradition returning for its third season at The Rep! 

November 25 – December 24  
Loretto-Hilton Center 
By Charles Dickens 
Adapted by Michael Wilson 

The Rep’s third annual holiday presentation of A Christmas Carol promises to be a joyous and heartwarming experience for audiences of all ages. Join Ebenezer Scrooge on the adventure of a lifetime as three spirits take him on a transformative journey through time. This is a St. Louis tradition unlike any other, that Ladue News calls “a technical marvel of artistry.” 

Theatre for young people and their families! 

Tomás and The Library Lady 
Based on the true story of Mexican-American author and educator Tomás Rivera. 

Dates TBA 
Adapted By José Cruz González  
From the book by Pat Mora 

Dive into a fantastical world of books in this celebratory true story. As Tomás’ family heads north to Iowa for work, they find fewer and fewer people who speak their native Spanish language. Looking for a place to fit in, Tomás finds a new passion when he befriends a librarian who introduces him to the magical world of books. This enchanting story adventures through the pages of towering dinosaurs and ferocious tigers, igniting Tomás’ imagination and bringing the audience along for the ride. 

Puss in Boots 
Everyone’s favorite feline fable is here to charm and entertain! 

Dates TBA 
By Jennifer Roberts 
Music and lyrics by Nathan A. Roberts 

Everyone’s favorite feline fable is here to charm and beguile! The miller’s son is not finding life easy, with barely a penny to his name and no inheritance from his father, save for a useless cat and a pair of too-small boots. But this cat hides a secret: She can talk! And sing! And she has a plan to take them from the poor house to a princely castle. But how long can this extraordinary kitty keep up the ruse before the cat is out of the bag? Bring the whole family and share the legend of Puss in Boots


The Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Rep presents innovative and compelling productions with something for everyone on its stages. The Rep delivers creative and thought-provoking theatrical experiences at two adaptable and intimate stages across St. Louis: the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre and the Berges Theatre at COCA at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts. With creative and thought-provoking performances, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. For more information, please visit

Cover photo of Kelvin Rolston Jr. as Donny Hathaway in “Twisted Melodies” at The Black Rep in 2016. Photo by Sam Roberson

By Lynn Venhaus
The filmmaker tries to sell the upper-class heroine as an eccentric, free-spirited widow that’s a cross between Auntie Mame and a Wes Anderson movie character but she is such an insufferable spoiled snob that it’s painful to watch.

Frances Price is a 60-year-old penniless Manhattan maven (Michelle Pfeiffer), her inheritance all gone from her late husband Franklin, decides to move to Paris, where a friend lends her an apartment. To make the transatlantic jump happen, she sells her possessions, then takes her cat, Small Frank, who may have assumed the spirit of Franklin (Tracy Letts), and her directionless son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) with her. She attracts an odd assortment of people along the way.

As played by the miscast Michelle Pfeiffer, the annoying socialite has absolutely no redeemable qualities. She’s rude to kind people – you’ll wince when she is mean to the sympathetic and lonely Madame Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey, in the film’s best performance). Frances, who must have always gotten by on her beauty, likes causing a ruckus because she can.

In a flat screenplay adapted by Patrick DeWitt from his 2018 international bestselling novel, Frances gained notoriety 12 years ago when she discovered her husband dead in bed and still went away for the weekend instead of attending to the pertinent matters at home. DeWitt’s principal characters are too remote to care about, not to mention hedonistic.

The ubiquitous cat, as voiced by the droll Tracy Letts, brightens up this off-putting tale, but it is such a jarring shift in tone and a bizarre addition to the third act, which keeps going like a runaway train until we hit 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Lucas Hedges does himself no favors by playing the dullard son. He lumbers through this film with neither wit nor grace, which is so rare after his stellar work in “Manchester by the Sea,” “Boy Erased,” “Waves” and “Lady Bird.”

Malcolm, who doesn’t show emotion, is such a blank slate that it is not evident he is in love with Susan (Imogene Poots), and that subplot resurfaces when his former fiancé arrives in Paris, but it’s a tedious distraction because it doesn’t resemble any kind of relationship among healthy adults.

There is a random detour with Madeleine the Medium (Danielle Macdonald) that he meets on the cruise to Europe that goes nowhere, except for introducing the supernatural so the cat can be a bigger part of the story.

Now, Manhattan and Paris are exquisite locations, therefore the cinematography by Tobias Datum makes the cities inviting and luxurious.

But this is such a strange hodge-podge of rich people lifestyles that the after-thought style of director Azazel Jacobs doesn’t connect at all. Most of all, the pacing is maddening and the insipid characters forced on us are not worth our attention and time. Are they playing it deadpan or are they really deadbeats? We’ll never know and it doesn’t matter. 

“French Exit” is a 2020 comedy-drama directed by Azazel Jacobs, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogene Poots and Tracy Letts. Rated R for language and sexual references, it’s run time is 1 hour, 50 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: D. Opened in theaters April 2.