A Dunwoody production of “August: Osage County” is bringing awareness to addiction through a partnership with a local recovery organization.
The play, a Pulitzer Prize winner from Tracy Letts, comes from a partnership with Greenlight Acting Studios and the Living Room Theatre, and will take place at Dunwoody’s Stage Door Theatre from Aug. 17-28. The production will also help raise money for Atlanta Recovery Place, a Dunwoody-based treatment center.
“It’s important that when you’re dealing with such heavy topics that you’re able to also provide hope,” said Michelle Neil, a producer for the show, of the decision to partner with the Dunwoody-based recovery center.
Neil, who is almost three years sober herself, said the play really hit home for her. “August: Osage County” centers around the Weston family who gather together when tragedy strikes. Different family members struggle with things like addiction and mental health, which Neil said she found striking, particularly as the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt that the themes of what Beverly and Violet and the family were dealing with – isolation, depression, mental health, addiction – were all very important,” she said. “Coming out of COVID and the pandemic, so many people are facing this.”
The production features a professional cast, including Alpha Trivette and Rebecca Koon as Beverly and Violet Weston, the patriarch and matriarch of the family. Trivette and Koon both have lengthy credits to their names, and are no strangers to each other – they starred as Grandpa and Grandma Walton respectively in “The Waltons: Homecoming,” a reboot of the popular 1970s television series.
The Westons couldn’t be more different from the Waltons, but Trivette said he works to find parallels in his own experience with every character he plays. He occasionally coaches other actors, and he asks them to do the same.
“What I try to do is encourage the actor to find those negative and positive things about the character to which you can draw parallels to your own personality and character,” he said. “We all have those things that we appreciate about ourselves as well as the things that we would like to fix about ourselves.”
Trivette also drew on parallels between the isolation that the elder Westons find themselves in and the worldwide isolation that the pandemic created.
“Beverly and Violet have created their own isolation, much like we were forced into isolation through COVID,” he said. “That aspect is a part of it, because they have closed themselves in, they have wallowed in their own misery.”
That misery and darkness made “August: Osage County” a difficult ask for Koon. She remembered that when the play first debuted on Broadway in 2007, a friend saw the show and told her she thought Koon would be perfect for it.
“I ordered it, and I read it,” Koon said. “I said to myself, I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.”
Koon said she wasn’t drawn to the play’s dark, dysfunctional themes. But after talking to Neil, she changed her mind.
“Her judgment call, and her sensibility on the telephone from our first conversation was what I needed to hear,” she said. “She just seemed to me like a horse that I wanted to back.”
Despite the serious themes of the show, audiences can expect some levity – a notion that might surprise some, particularly those who have seen the 2013 film version of “August: Osage County.” Neil, Trivette, and Koon all said the stage production is imbued with more humor than the film, something they credit as one of its strengths.
“I’m willing to bet that this production is going to have a lot more humor than my perception of the film,” Koon said. “You know, laughter is the best medicine.”
Actors take many measures to prepare for a role. For “August: Osage County,” that preparation included a panel discussion with staff at Atlanta Recovery Place – many of whom are in recovery themselves.
“We wanted to be able to give them the real life perspective of what does it mean to be an addict,” said Cody Davis, the director of business development at Atlanta Recovery Place. “What are our stories?”
Trivette and Koon both said the panel was eye-opening, affording them both a fuller understanding of how pervasive addiction can be. Both of them hope to see the production affect the audience the way the panel affected them.
“Once the curtain drops on the final performance, the ripple effect generally is what the audience feels about your performance and the overall feeling of the play, but this is different,” Trivette said. “It will live on because of the contribution and the awareness that we brought to Atlanta Recovery Place. For us as actors, it’s much more enriching to know that we have a much different, more active, more effective memory and relationship with the community.”
Koon said she hopes the production helps eliminate some of the stigma surrounding conversations about addiction.
“There should be no more taboo or stigma attached to being addicted,” she said. “It’s just your body’s chemical reaction to a stimulus, and yours is different from mine. You can’t do that alone. You need intervention, you need medical assistance, you need professional savvy to help you shake that monkey.”
Neil said that the money raised by the production will go towards helping people who may not have insurance or be able to afford recovery services on their own. She wants to continue to partner with organizations like Atlanta Recovery Palace in the future.
“It’s a wonderful way to make people aware of the organizations that are out there through storytelling,” she said. “It’s a very special connection.”
Davis said the money will definitely help, but like Koon, he hopes the production also helps to jumpstart a broader conversation about addiction, and shows people how they can help in their own communities.
“One of the hardest barriers to treatment and treating individuals who have a substance-use disorder is the stigma of addiction. That shame, that blame, that guilt, because it’s a very touchy topic,” he said. “I think being able to use the platform of theater is such a great way to continue to bring the message.”
Tickets for “August: Osage County” are available online.