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TITG show makes the stage - and headlines

August: Osage County runs through March 16


by: COURTESY PHOTO: THEATRE IN THE GROVE - Michael Rouches, the Hillsboro Police Departments public information officer, plays Steve, whos leering at Jean, played by Jeananne Kelsey, in 'August: Osage County.'Zach Centers was surprised when he answered his phone and found a reporter from the Wall Street Journal calling him. How, the reporter wanted to know, did Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove decide to stage “August: Osage County,” an adult play with characters ranging from a drug-addicted, brain-damaged matriarch to a man guilty of the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl.

It’s not the Sound of Music fare one normally associates with small communities.

Centers, 26, admitted the TITG board wrestled with some of the language before giving the green light for the production. “We aim for a balanced season every year. We like plays for families. We’ve already done ‘Annie’ this season, and we’re doing ‘Guys and Dolls,’” Centers said. “But we also do an adult play most years. It’s important for us to grow as actors. Last year we did ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’”

Centers got the idea for Tracy Letts’ play long before the movie received Academy Award buzz. “I saw it at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland — it pushed the edges,” Centers said. “I thought, wow, in 50 years this is going to be a classic.”

When presenting it to the board, Centers was passionate. The fact that it had just been made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts didn’t hurt. “It’s an R-rated movie for good reason,” Centers said. “It’s not something you want to bring your children to see.”

The board, which Centers also serves on, went along with his choice. Casting was only a problem in having so many good actors to choose from. His choice for the cruel matriarch was his mother, Cruella. It wasn’t typecasting. It was a role she wanted, and as a seasoned actress, she had the depth and experience he was looking for. “My parents have been involved in community theatre here for 30 years,” he said.

Centers himself started acting at age six, eventually getting a bachelor’s degree in theatre at Southern Oregon University. He’d also studied theatre at Forest Grove High School with Bonnie McCabe.

There were advantages and challenges to casting his mother. “We’re more prone to disagree, but the whole show is about family fighting,” he pointed out, laughing.

In this case there’s less fighting, because, Pruella said of her son, “he’s the director.”

And it’s not all dark. “There are parts that are really funny,” Centers pointed out. “It’s a tragic-comedy.” The challenge for everyone, actors and audience alike, is to find the good in each character. “Even Violet, who is cruel as well as drug addicted, has good points. She’s still capable of love,” Centers said. “It is hard to relate at times, but it’s also very accessible. The script approaches it on an everyday level.”

The cast is rounded out by Jodi Coffman as Barbara, Bud Reece as Beverly, Leslie Collins as Ivy, Holly Farmer as Karen, Brandon Weaver as Bill, Sharon Cunningham as Mattie Fae, Chuck Weed as Charlie, Robert Gray as Little Charles, Jeananne Kelsey as Jean, Michael Rouches as Steve, Carly Wasserstein as Johnna and Fred Sherrill as Sheriff Gilbeau.

Centers ended up talking to the Wall Street Journal reporter for an hour. Still, he figured Forest Grove might get a sentence buried in the middle of the article, if that. He was surprised to see the article Dec. 20 begin with two paragraphs about the Forest Grove production.

The play opens Feb. 28 and runs through March 16. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30 and Sunday matinees are at 2:30. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for youths and seniors and are available online by going to showtix4u.com, or at the box office.




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