New York City Theater
"August: Osage County"
Imperial Theatre, Manhattan
The wind blew in from the west, bringing a fresh vitality to the Broadway scene. Specifically, the Steppenwolf Company has arrived from Chicago with Tracy Letts’ new drama of one dysfunctional family—“August: Osage County.”
One might describe this piece as straight-on soap opera—no more, no less. But soap opera, if it is that, can be engaging. And, exaggerated though it may be, one can identify with such family problems as Letts lays out, becoming deeply involved with the Westons of Oklahoma, as their problems multiply.
The charm of “August” lies in its excellent performances, as the Steppenwolf people show what polished ensemble work is all about. It is a stellar cast of 13 players, working so well in unison that it is impossible to single out stars. But Deanna Dunagan (Violet, the mother) and Amy Morton (Barbara, the eldest daughter) provide a critical core to the whirling galaxy.
The story begins with Mom and Dad (she the drug addict, he the alcoholic), whose disastrous relationship forms the basis of Weston family life. Of the three Weston daughters, the foul-mouthed Barbara is married to an adulterer (the schoolteacher husband who is carrying on with one of his students), the ditzy Karen plans a perfect marriage to a loser (he has already hit upon his 14-year-old future niece, offering her drugs), and the third, Ivy, schemes to run off with her cousin Charlie (who is….but we stop here, refusing to give away the deepest family secret). Can this be the wholesome mid-west, the portrait of a wholesome all-American family? Can this be Oklahoma, where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye!
While Letts’ characters are not explored in depth, each has enough complexity and unpredictability to make him interesting. And the playwright keeps up a fast-moving patter which never palls—not once in the three-hour plus story—under Anna D. Shapiro’s astute direction. Humor mixes with poignancy in these lively exchanges. It all plays out against a charming stage set—designer Todd Rosenthal’s three-level doll house.
In all, Letts has concocted an absorbing, lively tale of woe.
-- Irene Backalenick
December 13, 2007