August: Osage County

by Lynn on November 15, 2009

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Canon Theatre, until November 15

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is a huge play about a dysfunctional family. It has won every award available to it, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. The touring production opened last night and our theatre critic, Lynn Slotkin, is here to tell us what’s the big deal about the play.

Hello Lynn. What’s the title mean?

Simple. The play takes place in the month of August, in Osage County, the largest county in the state of Oklahoma. No mystery, no subtext just when and where. The what and the who are the aspects that make this a fascinating play.

What’s the story of this fascinating play?

Written by Tracy Letts, an actor/playwright With the illustrious Steppenwolf Company of Chicago. It’s about the Weston family in which Beverly Weston is the patriarch. In a wonderful first scene, he sets up The workings and failings of the family to a young woman he’s hired to take care of his sick wife, Violet. Violet has cancer of the mouth — as the play progresses, we see how ironic that is. She is also addicted to painkillers of every description.

Then Beverly disappears.

The family is called to rally around Violet. Three daughters with various partners, husbands, a sister and brother-in-law gather. We realize why the daughters have scattered and Only one has stayed in the area.

Violet is a horror. Vindictive, manipulative, acid tongued and very, very funny.

What makes this such an award winning play?

First and foremost the writing is brilliant.

It’s been called LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT for the 21st century. Tracy Letts writes characters, especially Violet, who take no prisoners. You see where she is coming from and how that bite has affected her children.

Letts knows how to get under the skin of characters who lash out through frustration and desperation. We don’t excuse them but we recognize them. His dialogue crackles like a raging forest fire. When Violet lobs her first explosive remark, you think, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

The play full of surprises, all of which are credible. The play is deeply, deeply funny, the language is raw and defines and confines the characters. There is not one false note in the play or the production.

Tell us about the production. It stars the legendary Estelle Parsons.

The production is electrifying and Estelle Parsons as Violet is one of the reasons why. She is both diminutive and dangerous. She is like a coiled cobra — watchful for any sign of weakness in her victims, ready to strike. She’s mesmerizing.

As Barbara, the oldest daughter, Shannon Cochran matches Parsons barb for barb. Zingers whiz through the air like darts and unerringly hit their mark. Cochran’s performance is full of invention, nuance and subtlety.

The cast is an ensemble in the true sense of the word. It’s is a cohesive whole of acting artists at the top of their game.

Director Anna D. Shapiro guides her large cast with meticulous attention to detail.

Shapiro also won awards for her direction, didn’t she?

Yes, and she deserves everyone of them. Emotions carefully build in this production thanks to her direction. Some characters prowl with pent up energy others slump on a couch dead-eyed, a subtle sigh and a roll of the eyes conveys one character’s boredom with the story of another.

Shapiro stages the 13 characters with a keen sense of their place in the story. Not one movement is false. Not one reaction is anything but true.

The result is a terrific production.

So I guess you liked it?

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY deserves every award it has won. This production lives up to it in every way. If you love theatre, you can’t miss this. It’s a gift for anyone who loves their theatre meaty, gripping and exhilarating.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY plays at the Canon Theatre until November 15.