Fighting cancer, stage right

August: Osage County to benefit the American Cancer Society

Kelly Daniells can smile now. The American Cancer Society will smile, too.

Kelly Daniells can smile now. The American Cancer Society will smile, too.

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August: Osage County, 7 p.m., Sunday, January 29; $20; general seating only. Asclepius Productions in the Mainstage Theatre at the Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H Street;

Sacramento Theatre Company

1419 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 446-7501

If you think Asclepius Productions has a difficult name to pronounce, you’re right—and you’re not alone.

“It’s the Greek god of medicine, so we thought it was really cool and clever, but nobody knows how to say it,” says Kelly Daniells, who founded the company with her fiancé, Ian Cullity. “We don’t even know if we’re saying it right,” she admitted.

Pronunciation aside, though, the folks at Asclepius are certainly doing something right—or good, if you prefer. They produce one-night-only shows with the best local performers they can wrangle, and then donate all the money to the American Cancer Society.

This month, it’s the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning drama August: Osage County in a staged reading on the Mainstage at the Sacramento Theatre Company, with a lineup that reads like a who’s who of local artists, drawing from Big Idea Theatre Company, City Theatre and Resurrection Theatre—and that’s just to start.

Heading up the cast is local legend Janis Stevens as the acerbic, pill-popping matriarch of the Weston clan, Violet. Her husband, Beverly (Patrick Murphy, an associate artist at KOLT Run Creations) has disappeared, which means the entire family descends on their home to deal with the crisis. That includes their three daughters—Barbara (Maggie Hollinbeck), Ivy (Shannon Mahoney) and Karen (Nanci Zoppi)—as well as husbands, boyfriends and secret lovers. And speaking of secrets, if it weren’t for watching them unravel, why would we bother to keep them?

Benjamin T. Ismail will direct a cast that also includes Craig Howard, Josephine Longo, Christine Nicholson, Bob Crooner, Justin Munoz, Joelle Robertson, Barry Hubbard and Scott Divine.

And if you miss the show, you’re out of luck. With a cast this big, it may be a while before August: Osage County is produced again locally.

“We chose [the play] because it’s wonderful, but also since it is so large, we don’t know that there’s a company in town that could do a full production of it right now,” Daniells said. “And because we’re doing a one-night show, it’s an abbreviated rehearsal,” which makes it much easier for actors to commit.

Of course, there’s the added inducement: raising money for a charity that fights cancer. The Asclepius production of a concert version of Rent, staged last summer, raised slightly more than $4,000 for the American Cancer Society.

It’s a cause that’s personal to Daniells, who was diagnosed two years ago with thyroid cancer, at 25 years old. She has recovered—following treatment that included radiation—but can’t be considered in remission until she passes the five-year mark.

“When I had my radiation [treatment], I had to be in isolation for a week,” Daniells said, “and there’s only so much Toddlers and Tiaras you can watch.” So she started thinking about shows she’d like to produce, and kept coming up with big ones—like Rent.

But running a production company is time-consuming, and between work and graduate school, she and Cullity knew it would be too much. It also occurred to them that an occasional one-night performance—even of a large-cast show—might not be out of reach.

“I knew that a lot of Broadway organizations do these one-night shows to raise money for charities,” Daniells said. “We’ve certainly got enough people in town that could do it, especially if it’s just one night.”

Raising the money for cancer—considering the circumstances—just seemed like the thing to do. So they went to work, aiming for the best cast they could find.

“We said, ‘Let’s just ask. If they say no, they say no, but let’s just ask our dream cast,’” said Daniells. “And what do you know? We get the people we want. I mean, the only person who could do Violet Weston in my dream world is Janis Stevens.”

And that sounds just about right.