August Angst: Urban Theater Project brings area premiere of Pulitzer-winning play

Erica Jo Hoye (left) and Kevin Burford — photo by K. Michael Moore

August: Osage County

Aug. 23-24 and 30-31 at 8 p.m.
CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids

Tracy Letts’ pitch-black comedy, August: Osage County, has been capturing the attention of the creative world since it premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007. It eventually moved to Broadway, where it ran for 648 performances. A film adaptation will hit theatres this winter. Even animated sitcom American Dad has parodied its sprawling, dysfunctional style.

Corridor theater patrons finally have a chance to see what the fuss (and insults) are about with the area premiere of the play, brought to Cedar Rapids by the Urban Theater Project (UTP). The play, in which secrets and resentments come to the surface following the disappearance of a large family’s patriarch, is one that UTP founder Leslie Charipar has wanted to stage ever since she saw the play in New York City. Charipar is also the artistic director of Theatre Cedar Rapids, a role in which she often directs productions. When deciding to stage August, however, she says, “I knew I didn’t want to direct. I wanted to act in that one.”

Cherryl Moon Thomason (left) and Leslie Charipar — photo by K. Michael Moore

UTP member Angie Toomsen is directing. Toomsen said that she wanted to direct August because, as she describes it, “It’s a totally maxed-out universe of characters like no other play I’ve read in the last two decades.” Behind the comedy, it is an “opera of trickle-down emotional abuse.” With the plot concerning such a large family, Toomsen says, “I have loved working with each character and exploring what has made them what they’ve become.”

The cast size is one of several elements that make August one of the most ambitious plays produced by UTP. While a typical UTP production uses between two to five actors, August has a cast of 11. Charipar considers this a great opportunity for the theatre company, saying, “The cool thing about this show is that there is a place for everybody in the company, which we have never done.” Rather than performing in their usual setting of a living room or bank lobby, August is being staged in a more traditional theatrical space at Legion Arts in CSPS Hall.

Though the play is much larger in scale than previous UTP productions, Charipar feels that the edgy material fits in with the theater company’s aesthetic. She founded UTP in order to introduce to Cedar Rapids the concept of “storefront theater”—a Chicago trend in which small, experimental companies would create theaters in empty retail spaces. With a low budget and no subscribers to please, these groups are free to try smaller, more controversial shows. Though they are branching out into shows with large cast and scenery demands, the choice of character-driven August: Osage County shows that UTP has not left behind their intimate origins.

August: Osage County runs August 23-24 and 30-31 at CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE in Cedar Rapids. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For more information on online ordering, location, and show times, visit

Lindsay Prince (left) and Marty Norton — photo by K. Michael Moore