Dream house

By Dana Casadei

Riverwalk undertakes ambitious play with ambitious set

“If you build it, he will come” is one of the most iconic lines in movie history. Local director Emily English Clark may not have built the set for “August: Osage County,” the play she’s directing — or been hoping for dead baseball players to audition —but the line still rings true.

She said that after seeing the Tracy Letts-penned play in New York and “falling in love” with it,” she knew that she wanted to do the show at Riverwalk Theatre. There was one catch, though: She needed someone to build a three-story house to fit on stage. Enter her stage manager friend, Tim Fox.

“It’s a really, really difficult show to put on the Riverwalk stage,” Clark said. “The set is so complicated, and I said (to Tim), if you can design me a set, I’m going to submit the show.”

And he did. He built it, and then they came.

“You can’t help but go into a project like this with certain people in mind, hoping they will come and audition,” Clark said. The “August” cast is a mix of newcomers and seasoned actors she describes as “phenomenal,” and the script is no slouch either — in 2008, it won five Tonys and a Pulitzer. A show with creds like that may intimidate some, but for Clark, that was part of the fun.

“My (biggest) intimidation of the whole thing is just to make sure the audience stays entertained,” she said. “It’s a pretty dark show.”

The plot focuses on how the Weston family comes together after patriarch Beverly disappears. What ensues is a laundry list of heavy subjects: drug and alcohol addiction, death, sexual harassment, aging, generational change, family dysfunction and love. Finding the levity was her ultimate challenge.

“It has got some really sad moments, but it’s still a family,” Clark said. “There’s still some humor in it.”

While this family is dysfunctional, it’s one that many will be able to identify with, Clark said. (Or if they can’t, they will go home and thank their lucky stars for what they have.) The cast even discussed relatives that have had drug and alcohol problems, and losing friends to addiction.

“That’s reality,” Clark said. “Yes, it’s magnified greatly, but it’s still sort of the way the world works today. I don’t think (this show) will ever go out of style because we’re always going to have those screwed-up family members.”

“August: Osage County”
Riverwalk Theatre
Jan. 10-20
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 general/$12 students, seniors, military ($4 off Thursdays)
228 Museum Drive
(517) 482-5700