Monday, April 19, 2010

August: Osage County

‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ long but well worth the sit

Tracy Letts’ ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ gives new meaning to dysfunctional family. His subjects are one large assemblage of people who desperately need long-term group therapy.

There’s the drunken father and drug abusing mother. There are three sisters who are alienated from each other. One is having a relationship with… (let’s not talk about that because it could ruin your enjoyment of the revealed truth). Another has a husband who is having an affair with one of his students. The youngest sister has had a number of failed relationships, is desperate to get married, and has hooked up with a guy who …(nope, can’t reveal that either). There’s an angry aunt who says whatever comes into her filth-filled mind and has a secret to hide (hmmm). Add a teen-age granddaughter who is not only a habitual pot smoker, but also… (woops, let’s not bring that up). I could go on, but you get the idea….this is one messed up bunch of people whose lives make for great theatre, must see theatre.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the whole menagerie was made up, but, the author admits the play is a “largely fictional story of Letts’ family,” and Violet, the vindictive, substance abusing mother, is based on his maternal grandmother. He states, “My grandmother was a piece of work.” When Letts gave the play to his mother to read he was nervous, but her first response was, “I think you’ve been very kind to my mother.” Kind? Only if kind means Attila the Hun on meth!

The dark comedy (yes, the show is full of laughs) had its Broadway debut on December 4, 2007, moved to another theatre April 29, 2008, and ran for 648 performances. In the process, it deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play.

The plot centers on a reunion of the Weston family, living in the state of Oklahoma. The title refers to Osage County, which lies northwest of Tulsa, on the plains. The setting plays a major role in the story.

The three-act production, which runs for about 3 hours, 20 minutes including intermissions, deals with such issues as drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, death, family dysfunction, sexual harassment, pedophilia, aging, generational change, incest, infidelity, and even love.

The touring production is outstanding. Everything from the fully constructed three-story house, to the well-used lighting, to the character development, are well done. This is professional theatre as its best. The play and production hark back to the era of Williams, Miller and Inge and the well made, well produced play.

Estelle Parsons is Violet. She doesn’t portray Violet, she is Violet, with all her warts and flaws. This is an award winning performance. Also outstanding is Shannon Cochran as the oldest daughter. This is a “have a nervous breakdown every night” part.

The rest of the cast are all excellent, not a weak link in the chain.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: As a line in the play states, “Life is very long.” So is ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ but its worth every minute of the time you spend while watching a well-conceived play get a superb production.