DeLanna Studi, the actress who plays Johnna, Violet's caretaker and cook, in the U.S. tour of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, is not only a member of the Cherokee Nation, but she is also an Oklahoman.
The Muldrow native, who's lived in Los Angeles for the past 10 years, said she was excited to audition for the role because, "here is a strong Oklahoma woman who happens to be American Indian in the play about a fascinating Oklahoma family."
When she got the role, it was a "dream come true," she said.
"My character Johnna is hired by Beverly, the patriarch of the Weston family, to cook, clean and do basic nursing skills for his wife Violet," Studi said during a phone conversation before the tour kicked off. "Johnna is home, the moral center of this family, the silent observer and the caretaker. That's what she does. In the course of three and a half hours, she watches the family crumble, and she's the only one left.
"There's this great Cheyenne proverb that says, 'We were here when they came, we'll take care of them while they're here, and we'll be here when they leave.' And that's what Johnna does."
As an Oklahoman, Studi can attest to the truth written in Letts' play.
"First off, Tracy Letts is amazing at capturing the Oklahoma heat," Studi said. "The play is set in August, so it's hot. It's pretty true of a lot of people in my family that the elderly members don't use air conditioning, so going into their homes is like stepping into a sauna. Tracy captures that environment, how harsh it is to be in Oklahoma during the hottest month of year."
Of the characters, Studi said, "I know these people. They're members of my family, my best friend's family, people I went to school with. Every time I do the play, it's like coming home. Every American family out there, you're going to know these people.
"He really captures the beauty of Oklahoma, but also how hard it is to live there at times," Studi said. "For me, growing up in Oklahoma, especially in a small town--I love where I lived, the people in my community, my family--but at same time, my poor family, God love them, when things seem like they're getting better, they go from worse to worse to worse.
"Oklahoma is made of survivors, especially native people," Studi said. "It's where we were pushed, and we made best of it. My grandmother had a small homestead. She had 10 children. My grandfather worked and worked and worked every day making 10 cents an hour and finally saved enough to buy her a washer with wringer, and he had it delivered by a horse and wagon.
"As he gets up to the driveway, there's a lot of commotion at the house, and as he pulls up with the new washer in his cart, he realizes his house is burning. They lost everything in that fire. To me, that's Oklahoma.
"People have gone through so much, but we've managed. We deal with this; we rebuild. That's what my people did, what both my families did. Oklahoma is like that. It's the place where you go and somehow find courage and strength to rebuild."
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