What: “August: Osage County,” by Tracy Letts

When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, with additional performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, till March 25; sneak preview 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Cascades Theatre, 148 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend

Cost: $20, $16 seniors, $13 students (sneak preview Thursday $10, available at the door)

Contact: cascadestheatrical.org or 541-389-0803

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” goes the famed Leo Tolstoy quote.

Reminded of the quote at a rehearsal last week for “August: Osage County,” Sandy Silver, director of the show, replied: “In this particular one, our matriarch is a little over the edge.”

Just a little. The ensemble comedy by playwright Tracy Letts allows a fly-on-the-wall perspective into the lives of not just the matriarch, Violet Weston, but three generations of her uniquely miserable family. The production opens Friday at Cascades Theatre in Bend.

“I put in for this show,” Silver said. “I loved it from the minute I read it.”

She went on to mention the many awards won by the show, which debuted in Chicago in 2007, then headed to Broadway, where it merited multiple Tonys, including best play, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

When Silver mentions the 2013 film starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and a bevy of other A-list stars, it’s to note that the film version was a drama.

The play, however, is different. It’s a comedy, and a dark one at that.

“I want to get out to the public (that) 90 percent of people have only seen the movie,” Silver said. “The feedback is that ‘It’s so sad’ and ‘It’s so depressing.’ Well, that’s because Letts came in and rewrote it, and wanted to bring out that part of it, hoping to get (an Oscar) nomination.

“But the play itself is a black comedy. Our hope is, or my hope is, is that the audience gets the laughter,” Silver continued. “And for those who don’t, and say, ‘That’s my family,’ it’s like I say, ‘May the force be with you.’”

The play is set in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, during an August 2007 hot spell. It opens with the prologue, in which Beverly Weston, played by Ed Mierjeski, interviews Johnna (Prairie Carrie Emrich), a Cheyenne woman in the process of being hired as the empty nesters’ live-in housekeeper.

In the short scene, we also get our first glimpse of the Weston clan’s over-the-edge, pill-popping, slurring matriarch, Violet Weston, played by Judi Van Houweling. Some theatergoers may recognize Van Houweling as a longtime member of Triage, the comedy improv troupe that calls CTC home. Its specialty is long-form improv, in which whole, complex scenes are built around audience suggestions.

It seems to have paid dividends for Van Houweling. However she came by her skills, as Violet, Van Houweling is forceful, convincing, tragic and hilarious. There’s an anything-might-happen air when her character is in a scene, and it sometimes does.

Each summer, CTC holds its annual sneak preview, in which those in attendance get to see a scene from each of the upcoming season’s offerings. Silver directed a scene from “August: Osage County.”

“That’s our way of hopefully selling tickets for our show,” Silver said. “We just ask friends. ‘Hey, I’m going to do this scene. Would you come in and do it?’”

She asked Van Houweling to play Violet for the preview, as well as actresses Hilda Beltran Wagner and Vicki Pennock to portray Barbara and Ivy, respectively. They turn up in the full production as well.

“The chemistry was incredible,” Silver said. “I never pre-cast. I did not promise them the roles, but I prayed to the gods, ‘Please send them down and let them audition.’”

The tone is established early on in the Prologue, as Beverly reveals to Johnna that he drinks and Violet takes pills. And, oh yeah, Violet has cancer.

“What kind of cancer?” Johnna asks. “I didn’t say?” Beverly says. “My God, I nearly neglected the punchline: MOUTH cancer.”

To be sure, this is an ensemble comedy, and Silver has assembled a talented cast of a dozen Central Oregon actors — some familiar, a few newer faces.

“I’ve got a really strong cast,” Silver said. “It has been an incredible experience.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s the more insular, literate Beverly’s behavior — wandering off without a word and failing to return for several days — that draws everyone back to the nest.

Act One opens with a visit from the geographically nearest relatives: Ivy (Pennock), the middle of the couple’s three daughters, joined by her aunt Mattie Fay (Lilli Ann Linford-Foreman), who’s Violet’s sister, and uncle, Charlie (Dave Felton). We learn that it was Mattie Fay who introduced her older sister to Beverly in the first place, that Beverly has taken off before. We also learn that Beverly’s pontoon boat has gone missing from the dock where he normally keeps it, yet the boat trailer is still at the house. Further cause for concern.

Barbara Fordham (Beltran Wagner), the oldest of the Weston daughters, soon lands from Boulder, Colorado, along with her somewhat estranged husband, Bill (Eric Schusterman), and their pot-smoking teen daughter, Jean (Miranda Baglien).

“My father’s dead, Bill,” Barbara tells him, shortly before we learn — spoiler alert — that she’s correct.

The discovery of Beverly’s corpse begs the question of whether he committed suicide or drowned by accident — and we’re not yet out of Act One.

Again, this is a dark comedy that tends toward black on the visible comedy spectrum. You might find yourself surprised by what you’ll laugh at, from Violet’s woozy outbursts and wobbly entrances, to the easy cattiness and cruelty that comes with family, especially ones with long-harbored secrets and resentments.

“The show’s not been an easy one,” Silver confessed. “We all deal with our mothers. And it brings back a lot of stuff for us that we thought we’d buried.”