"August: Osage County"
12/06/2007 06:35 PM
Playwright Tracy Letts made a name for himself off-Broadway with plays like "Killer Joe" and "Bug." This week he made his Broadway debut with "August: Osage County," a new work that arrives here after a sold-out run in Chicago. Contributing Critic David Cote of Time Out New York filed the following review.
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Tracy Letts's “August: Osage County” is the dysfunctional-family drama supersized: a bulging scrapbook of misery, grudges and poisoned inheritance. They don't make plays like this anymore. It's three and a half hours, with 13 cast members on a three-tiered set spinning out at least a dozen storylines. The result is a tremendous achievement in American playwriting: a dynamic, populist, tragicomic portrait of a tough land and its even tougher people.
Despite its size and length, there's hardly a gratuitous twist in the plot and the time flies by incredibly fast, thanks to a fierce cast from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company and Anna D. Shapiro's pitch-perfect direction. The story is set in motion by the disappearance of Weston family patriarch Beverly, played by the author's actual father, Dennis Letts. Beverly is a drunken Oklahoma poet who hasn't written a book in years. He leaves behind his bitter, pill-popping, potty-mouthed wife, Violet, played by an inspired Deanna Dunagan. This hateful, drug-addicted harpy inevitably calls to mind Edward Albee's Martha and Eugene O'Neill's Mary.
Soon the Weston household is crawling with three daughters, their husbands and fiancŽs, children and some assorted aunts uncles and cousins. When the sheriff shows up, you know it's bad news. Letts distinguishes himself from other great chroniclers of screwed-up families by not descending into self-pity or hollow sympathy. Instead, there's a lacerating wit and social criticism churning underneath the power struggles of this Midwestern clan.
In a generally excellent cast, Amy Morton stands out as the eldest daughter, watching herself turning into her wretched parents. Jeff Parry is brilliantly understated as her frustrated, estranged husband. And Dunagan is acidly spectacular as the matriarch from hell, addled by drugs and life's disappointment, a woman whose maternal instincts went south years ago. When Violet starts in on her children, best to stand back.
A play like “August: Osage County” doesn't come along every year, or barely once a generation. With a wide social vision, eloquence and yet a common touch when it comes to shocks and laughs, this is without doubt the most exciting and ambitious drama on Broadway in years. Miss this knock-em-down-drag-em-out family reunion at your peril.
— David Cote