Tracy Letts August: Osage County, Imperial Theatre, December 4, 2007 / the performance I attended was on January 22, 2008
“A fraught, densely plotted saga of an Oklahoma clan in a state of near-apocalyptic meltdown,” began Charles Isherwood’s review of August: Osage County in the New York Times, “August is probably the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years. Oh, forget probably: It is, flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting American play Broadway has seen in years.” Newsday described the play as “riveting,” “arguably the best new American play since Albee's The Goat.” The New York Daily News raved “In August: Osage County, which opened Tuesday at the Imperial Theatre, author Tracy Letts, in his Broadway debut, creates a hugely ambitious, highly combustible saga that will leave you reeling.”
How could I not attend such a play on my January visit to the city? While I left the Imperial however, recognizing the ambitions of this play, and I was, in fact, reeling—given the three-hour length of this drama—otherwise I was quite unable to explain the superlatives of New York critics, a position I share with the more introspective review by Peter Marks of the Washington Post.
Already in the very first scene, as sometime poet and academic, now full time drunk Beverly Weston hires a Native American (a term that seems to outrage other Weston family members) as cook-nurse-nanny to him and his wife, we are told of the couple’s eccentricities: if Beverly is an alcoholic, his wife Violet’s choice of self-destruction is through pills, the two living together in a shuttered-up house, recognizing neither night nor day in their wretched lives. Nearby, lives their middle-aged daughter, Ivy, a woman clearly desperate to escape her family ties.
If my quickened recounting of family affairs sounds a bit incomprehensible, I readily admit it. But this is, after all, a soap opera plot. Unlike the witty family drama I saw two days earlier, The Homecoming, whose effects relied almost entirely upon language, August: Osage County, despite some moments of witty verbal sparing, relies almost entirely upon this ludicrous plot. While the wonderfully talented acting ensemble from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater hide the fact, the truth remains that few, if any, of these figures are complex enough to explain their over-the-top behaviors.
Los Angeles, February 9, 2008