Detroit Free Press – Hilberry and star Lavinia Hart deliver a memorable ‘Osage County’

April 23, 2014 – John Monaghan

August Osage County

From left: Miles Boucher, Danielle Cochrane, Lavinia Hart, Annie Keris and Megan Barbour in Hilberry Theatre’s production of ‘August: Osage County.’ / Hilberry Theatre

If you caught the recent movie version of “August: Osage County,” you’ve seen only part of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning work. At full length, the 2007 dark comedy runs more than three hours, has two intermissions and solidly proves that there are still plays out there capable of delivering meaty roles, clever dialogue and plenty of subtext to ponder even after multiple viewings.

The excellent production at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre boasts solid performances from the graduate student troupe, though it’s Lavinia Hart, longtime head of the school’s MFA acting program, who is the show’s anchor. She portrays Violet Weston, the matriarch of an especially dysfunctional Oklahoma family — and arguably the greatest stage character for actresses of a certain age to play in at least a couple of decades.


‘August: Osage County’ Review – All in the family


August Osage County

Viciousness shouldn’t be quite so funny, nor frailty quite so compassionate, but family’s weird that way. For the final production of its season, Hilberry Theatre takes on playwright Tracy Letts’s much-lauded and recently film-adapted “August: Osage County,” an epic tragicomedy chronicling resounding disaster and slovenly catharsis in one fractious Oklahoma clan. Fittingly, this story of homecoming features the return of Hilberry alumnus James R. Kuhl as director and a hotly anticipated guest performance by faculty member Lavinia Hart, who join with the graduate student company in pushing the vast ranges of this exhaustive script as far as parameters allow.

At the play’s outset, the only inhabitants of the Weston house are the declining, adversarial Beverly (Alec Barbour) and Violet (Hart), along with their respective all-consuming addictions. When Beverly abruptly hires a live-in housekeeper (Sarah Hawkins Moan) and just as promptly disappears, it serves as the catalyst to bring the couple’s three daughters back to their childhood home, with families – and baggage – in tow.


‘August: Osage County’ closes the Hilberry Theatre season with a bang


Left to right – Lavinia Hart, Danielle Cochrane

The Hilberry Theatre’s final play of the season is “August: Osage County,” which earned Tracy Letts the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. This production is remarkable for a number of reasons. It is an uncomfortable but irresistible oddity – a brutally funny, frighteningly honest production. It is brilliantly directed by Hilberry alumnus James R. Kuhl – currently Artistic Director of the Tipping Point Theatre – last seen at the Hilberry five years ago in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” And it stars, in the role of the pill-addled matriarch Violet Weston, Lavinia Hart, who is possibly the most well-known theatre pro in the area and Head of the MFA Acting Program at Wayne State University.

Whether or not you saw the critically acclaimed film version of Letts’ masterpiece, you should scurry down to the Hilberry to see this live production. The experience is unforgettable. We’ve seen and enjoyed this play elsewhere, and expected Ms. Hart to be amazing in the powerhouse role of Violet Weston. She was all that and more – scary, smart and explosive.


Student and teacher return to the stage in Hilberry’s ‘August: Osage County’



APRIL 15, 2014

Left to right - James R. Kuhl, Bevin Bell-Hall, Lavinia Hart

Left to right – James R. Kuhl, Bevin Bell-Hall, Lavinia Hart

Returning home, an idea at the heart of countless great dramas over the years, gets fresh layers of meaning in Hilberry Theatre’s season-closing production of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Tony Award-winning dysfunctional-family drama.

In the large-cast play, running April 18-May 10 on the campus of Wayne State University in Midtown Detroit, members of the Weston clan — including three grown sisters and their poisonous mother — reunite at their rambling Oklahoma homestead following the disappearance of their patriarch. Tempers flare, sparks fly, pills are popped, liquor flows and profanity reigns.

The production itself represents two significant, if less turbulent, homecomings.


Experience the dysfunction of “August: Osage County” at the Hilberry Theatre!

August Osage County - Hilberry (4)DETROIT – The 2008 Tony Award winner for Best Play August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts, closes the Hilberry Theatre’s 51st season in Midtown Detroit. Playing April 18 through May 10, 2014, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play arrives at the Hilberry Theatre fresh off the critically-acclaimed movie adaptation in theatres nationwide. Tickets for August: Osage County range from $10 – $30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online at, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street.

Left to right - James R. Kuhl, Bevin Bell-Hall, Lavinia Hart

Left to right – James R. Kuhl, Bevin Bell-Hall, Lavinia Hart

August: Osage County is set on the plains of modern day, middle-class Oklahoma. Each member of the Weston family is intelligent and sensitive with an uncanny ability of making the others absolutely miserable. When the patriarch of the household, Beverly, mysteriously vanishes, the Weston clan gathers together to simultaneously support and attack one another. His body is found five days later in the lake; his death is deemed a suicide. Violet, the drug-addicted matriarch, her three daughters, and their families try, unsuccessfully, to work out their problems from the time they arrive, through his funeral, and on into the next day. Darkly comic and bitingly witty, August: Osage County explores painful issues all American families have to face, and then some.

Left to right - Lavinia Hart, Annie Keris

Left to right – Lavinia Hart, Annie Keris

Lavinia Hart, Head of the MFA Acting Program at Wayne State University, will play the role of Violet, the drug-addled family matriarch. Hart was the Artistic Director of the Attic Theatre in Detroit for 19 years where she acted, directed, and produced more than 100 professional productions. She is a winner of the Detroit Free Press Lee Hills Award, and has been named Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit News Magazine.

Director James R. Kuhl returns home to the Hilberry Theatre where he earned his MFA in acting. Kuhl is the Artistic Director for the Tipping Point Theatre and has worked as an actor with the Purple Rose Theatre Company, Williamston Theatre, The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, Boarshead Theatre, Icarus Falling, Spotlight Theatre, Croswell Opera House, Magenta Giraffe, and the Summer Studio Theatre in Illinois.

This production contains harsh language and portrays adult/mature themes.

August Osage County - Hilberry (2)

Left to right – James R. Kuhl, Annie Keris, Lavinia Hart, Bevin Bell-Hall

Cast (in alphabetical order):

Alec Barbour (Beverly Weston), Megan Barbour (Karen Weston), Bevin Bell-Hall (Mattie Fae Aiken), Miles Boucher (Bill Fordham), Danielle Cochrane (Barbara Fordham), Brandon Grantz (Steve Heidebrecht), Lavinia Hart (Violet Weston), Annie Keris (Ivy Weston), Egla Kishta (Jean Fordham), Sarah Hawkins Moan (Johnna Monevata), Topher Alan Payne (Sheriff Deon Gilbeau), Brandy Joe Plambeck (Charlie Aiken), David Sterritt (Little Charles Aiken).

Production Team:

James R. Kuhl (Director), Sarah Drum (Stage Manager), Lyndee Hallahan (Asst. Stage Manager), Leazah Behrens (Scenic Design), Clare Hungate-Hawk (Costume Designer), Heather DeFauw (Lighting Design), Leah McCall (Sound Designer), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Mike Sabourin (Properties Master), Michael “Mick” Keathley (Master Electrician), Maxwell Bolton (Publicist).


About the Hilberry Theatre Company

Wayne State University’s Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance serves students as a nexus of performance, production, and research in the fields of theatre and dance. It provides a wide choice of degree programs that allow students the flexibility to study these disciplines broadly or to concentrate more specifically in performance, design, or management. The Hilberry Theatre hosts a professional theatre company that is staffed by graduate students and runs on a rotating repertory schedule.  Each academic year, about forty graduate students receive assistantships to work for the Hilberry Theatre and study for advanced degrees. The company performs and produces an annual season of six plays, including high school matinees for nearly 6,000 students. For box office hours and information on performances, tickets, group discounts, and corporate packages, visit the theatre’s website at Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.

Calendar Information:

Wednesday 2 p.m.      April 23 (Postshow Talkback)
Thursday 8 p.m.           April 24 (Preshow Discussion), May 1, May 8

Friday 8 p.m.                April 18 (Opening Night), April 25, May 2, May 9
Saturday 2 p.m.           April 19, May 3
Saturday 8 p.m.           April 19, April 26, May 3, May 10

You’re Invited the the Hilberry Theatre Open House and Subscriber Party – March 30 at 1:00 p.m.

Sub Party Invite


Join us Sunday, March 30 at 1:00 p.m. for the annual Hilberry Open House and Subscriber Party
Activities begin at 1:00 p.m.
A short performance will begins at 3:00 p.m. 

  • Meet the Hilberry Company
  • Exciting announcements about the 2014-15 Season and beyond!
  • Performance from graduating actors and the Bonstelle Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls
  • Fun games and activities
  • An insider’s tour of the Hilberry
  • A chance to win great prizes
  • Light refreshments
  • FREE!
RSVP by calling 313-577-2972 or emailing

Examiner Review: ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ shines on at the Hilberry Theatre

Moon Over Buffaloby Patty Nolan
February 22, 2014

In “Moon Over Buffalo,” award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig delivers a script that crackles with the electric banter of a George S. Kaufman classic and convulses audiences with the primal appeal of the internet’s most popular cat memes.

For the Hilberry Theatre’s opening night, we were sitting next to a couple of WSU students and in front of two senior citizens, and it’s hard to say who laughed loudest or longest. Directed by WSU professor Dr. Blair Anderson, this production of “Moon Over Buffalo” amplifies the clever banter with a classic combination of sight gags, physical humor, silly props, and classic double-takes – employed by this young Hilberry cast with the flawless timing of Broadway veterans.

In fact, this Ludwig script originally saw light as the vehicle for one of Broadway’s best; “Moon Over Buffalo” brought Carol Burnett back to the Great White Way in 1995. And it doesn’t hurt that this is “Green Room comedy” at its most frantic – a play about people in the business of putting on a play, as viewed from behind the curtain.

Set in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953, we discover a famous but fading theatre couple, George (Brent Griffith) and Charlotte Hay (Bevin Bell-Hall), as they struggle to reignite their careers, their marriage and their passion for the stage. Ludwig’s script includes references to real celebrities of the day – Ronald Coleman, Greer Garson, Frank Capra and others – who are crowding the spotlight that the Hay’s are so desperate to squeeze into. The only thing they need is a lucky break – and the right people to see the right performance of the shows their small repertory company has been touring.

Helping out by making costumes, coffee, and an occasional on-stage appearance, is Charlotte’s mother Ethel (Megan Barbour). Ethel seems to be the only unflappable one in the Hay’s company, most likely because she is stone deaf and blissfully unaware of the histrionics happening all about her. Of course, her deafness isn’t always a blessing. When she’s asked to pour out a bottle of whiskey and brew some fresh coffee, she thinks she’s been asked to pour the whiskey into the Irish coffee. The results are anything but sobering.

Complicating life in the Hay’s theatre company is the fact that their only daughter Rosalind (Danielle Cochrane) has left the theatre and her actor boyfriend Paul (Miles Boucher) to pursue a “normal” life. In fact, Rosalind has brought her new fiancé, Howard (Brandon Grantz), to the theatre to introduce him to her parents. Rosalind’s timing isn’t great. The day she arrives, Charlotte has resolved to leave George and run off with lawyer-to-the-stars Richard (Brandy Joe Plambeck) because she’s discovered that George has been dallying with the company’s ingénue, Eileen (Sarah Hawkins Moan). And when star-struck Howard wanders backstage, Charlotte thinks he is Frank Capra and George thinks he’s an assassin. Some in the company think they’re performing “Cyrano” for the matinee, and some think they’re doing Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” And everyone thinks they are the only sane person in the room.

This is a funny, funny play. Best of all, in this flawless Hilberry production, director Anderson treats the material like a good wine – he give it room to breathe. The cast has some funny stage business, and many of the show’s best moments happen between the scripted lines.

Bevin Bell-Hall, as Charlotte Hay, is an unstoppable force, with seemingly telekinetic powers to thrill and threaten the men around her with just a look. She is wonderfully paired with Brent Griffith, who gives us an urbane, ego-centric yet somehow endearing hack who has blurred the lines between life in front of and behind the red velvet curtain.

Indeed, for the Hays Company and for anyone caught in their orbit, there is no “off stage.” And for anyone who loves theatre, or simply loves to laugh, “Moon Over Buffalo” is just the thing. If you are lucky enough to be a Hilberry season ticket holder, you’ll love seeing the actors you loved from such plays as “Macbeth” and “Othello” flex their comic muscle. Indeed, even the audience will burn calories by non-stop aerobic laughing.

The Hilberry production team supporting Blair Anderson includes: Courtney Rasor (Stage Manager), Sarah Drum (Asst. Stage Manager), Max Amitin (Scenic Design), John D. Woodland (Costume Designer), Leah McCall (Lighting Designer), Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), Michael “Mick” Keathley, II (Sound Designer), Tonae Mitsuhashi (Properties Master), Heather DeFauw (Master Electrician), Kevin Replinger (Publicity Manager).

”Moon Over Buffalo” runs in rep through April 5; check the theatre calendar for exact dates and times. Tickets range from $12–$30 and are available online, by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at 313- 577-2972313- 577-2972, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock Street in Detroit.