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Welcome to the Arden Theatre Company blog, where we share behind-the-scenes stories and current happenings with you. You will hear from the Arden staff as well as actors and other visiting artists, and we hope to hear from you, too. If you have an idea for a topic, please post a comment about it. We can't wait to hear what you think!

By Ed Sobel, >troche Arden Associate Artistic Director and original dramaturg on August: Osage County

“Home is the place where when you have to go there, >ailment they have to take you in.” — Robert Frost, mind The Death of a Hired Man

It’s hard to find a play that isn’t in some way about family.  The great tragedies of ancient Greece (think Sophocles’ Oedipus or Antigone) while pursuing ideas of political power, responsibility, and free will have as their principal advocates members of the same family. (Oedipus murders his father and sleeps with his mother.  Antigone rebels against Kreon, her uncle, because she wishes to properly bury her brother.)  The mighty Shakespeare’s discourses on the ability to take meaningful action (Hamlet) or the vicissitudes of inherited power (Henry IV) look at humanist and existential questions as they play out within family dynamics. (Hamlet seeks to avenge the murder of his father by his uncle.  Young Hal navigates his difficult relationship with his own father, and tests a surrogate in Falstaff.)

The American dramatic tradition is equally, if not more tightly bound to the familial – even plays thought to be primarily of social significance and commentary (Death of a Salesman, Raisin in the Sun) revolve around contests between parents and children or husbands and wives.  With August: Osage County, Tracy Letts draws upon his own family lore, amplifying these stories with an artist’s delight in extreme behavior and moral ambiguity.  But while outrage and outrageousness permeate the play, one should not be so distracted by the emotional fireworks as to lose track of the social critique.  It is not just the pathology of the American family about which Tracy is concerned, but the American family.

Photo by Mark Garvin

The play begins with the interrogation of a Native American woman who agrees to take on the job of caring for this family, descendents of those who have invaded her homeland and destroyed her people.  What follows is not only an investigation into familial betrayals and rivalries, but the diagnosis of dysfunction for an entire class of people. With its large cast of characters and form (a three-act structure) Tracy is not only referencing theatrical days of yore, but also demanding a canvas large enough for individual relationships to take on metaphorical significance and sweep.  In one of our earliest conversations about the script, Tracy told me that the play was partly about what happens when “men abandon the field”.  Certainly the male characters in the play abrogate responsibility for themselves and others in ways both hilarious and damning.  We leave it to you to determine whether the women follow suit.

Sweltering around the arguments, not to mention outright fisticuffs, of the play is the sticky truth that no matter what the members of this family do, they can not extract themselves from their familial history or the family fabric.  Their original sin, as with O’Neill’s great tragic families in Long Days Journey Into Night or Desire Under the Elms, is simply being born.  Their continued afflictions – addiction, greed, self-interest, moral confusion–  are inherited as surely as the mythic American values – the right to happiness, self-determination, ambition, capitalism – of which they are extensions or complements.

Family.  We all have one.  Some may even have one that looks like the Westons.  We all have a country.  Even one that looks like America.

By Glenn Perlman, >buy the Arden’s Technical Director

Building the set for August: Osage County — on stage through October 30 — presented some real challenges. Some came from the award-winning author,  Tracy Letts, and some came from Director Terry Nolen and Scenic Designer Dan Conway. The playwright prescribes a three-story house occupied by thirteen characters including a forty-minute dinner scene. And Terry and Dan wanted the audience to feel included in the action. That meant we would stage August in the thrust, where the audience gets a sense of itself, and where watching other audience members watch the play adds to the overall experience — the shared experience that is the essence of live theatre.

With lines like “there’s an Indian in my attic,” there’s no way to do this show without an attic. So the challenge becomes how to create a house, large enough to fill the space and accommodate all the actors, physically solid enough to actually support second and third levels that are real acting areas, and yet open enough for every one of our 365 audience members to see and hear what’s going on.

The solution:  get rid of all those pesky walls.

The set of August: Osage County. Photo by Mark Garvin

The design is a house with a layout that is not far off from one that may really exist. The kitchen’s right off the dining room. One step down to the sunken living room. One step up to the first-floor study. A stairway to the second floor with a hallway off to some bedrooms and four steps up to a split-level attic. Dan looked at images of dozens of Oklahoma farm houses, pulling out the little details like doghouse dormers and bead board walls. Then he stripped down the whole house to the essence — just a “skeleton” of the roof lines. A couple of doors and windows.

The audience feels like they are peeking into the house.

We built this house over the summer, taking advantage of our time between seasons. Our small but mighty staff (read:  me and another guy) framed the levels with 2×8 joists in the space, just like you’d build a real floor of a house — not like scenery. Of course there is some extra engineering involved (a little hidden steel support to compensate for where load-bearing walls would normally be, sections that are suspended by steel cable from the catwalks above, and some hidden bracing to keep the entire structure from swaying when people move around on it) but generally it’s built just like a real house. Just minus the walls.

We could have built a real house as easily.

The Arden takes great pride in strong physical production values, and we endeavor to always make effective and efficient use of our resources. Building this set in the space over the summer was key in our ability to create what this particular play needed. Once it was populated with furnishings, the incredible cast and fleshed-out with lights, sound, and costumes, the play comes to life in an amazing way.

I hope you enjoy peeking into our little Oklahoma farm house.

The Arden kicked off our 24th season on Wednesday, October 5th with August: Osage County! Members of the Sylvan Society gathered across the street from the Arden at LG Tripp Gallery for a pre-show cocktail party. Race Street Café provided light bites while Terry Nolen and Board President Ellen Foster toasted the start of a new season. Arden supporters, friends and members of the press attended the 7pm performance, which was followed by a post-show party catered by 12th Street Café and Hatboro Beverages. Special thanks to our opening night sponsor, Harmelin Media!

Here are some photos from the evening:

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