Making his Broadway debut with his dynamic new play August: Osage County, playwright Tracy Letts takes you on a thrilling ride that will not only leave you breathless, but keep you spellbound for nearly three and a half hours. “Fasten your seat belts because it’s going to be bumpy ride!” The playwright will let the venom spew in his gripping tale of the Weston clan that brings the dysfunctional family into the 21st Century.
Previous plays by Letts, Killer Joe (1998) and Bug (2004), produced off- Broadway were compelling lurid tales which demonstrated the playwright’s skill for absorbing story telling as well as his flair for realistic dialogue. But they didn’t quite prepare us for his sprawling ambitious three generation family drama which has brought him comparisons to Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams and even the Eugene O’Neill classic Long Day’s Journey into Night. Make no comparisons Letts has clearly been influenced by these great playwrights, but he has an innovative distinctive voice of his own, and a unique style as well.
His other two plays were sensational in small ways, but Osage County is sensational in big ways. With Bug you felt like you were peaking through the keyhole into a sordid motel room. With August: Osage County we become the fly on the wall in the Weston household, where we are free to move from room to room, as these fascinatingly damaged souls let loose with an astounding torrent of buried fears and long held resentments.
Their engrossing struggle to make sense out of one man’s disappearance in the face of his ultimate suicide is cram packed with disturbing ideas and compelling thoughts about survival and relationships, love and fear, longing and hope. They may sound clichéd, but in Mr. Letts’ inventive hands they are actually insightful metaphors for our troubled times. There is no black and white and the truth falls somewhere in between on his roller coaster ride called life with the Westons. And Letts will keep you laughing all the while. One moment you will be shocked the next laughing hysterically.
The setting is the sweltering Oklahoma plains inside the un-air conditioned rambling three story home ( a fabulously realistic design by Todd Rosenthal beautifully lit by Ann G. Wrightson) of the Weston family, where all the action will take place. At the center of the tale is the fiercely independent acid tongued Violet (Deanna Dunagan), the pill popping matriarch who incidentally is suffering from cancer of the mouth and will gleefully lash out anyone in sight. Her three daughters and their various assorted family members, all fascinating fleshed out characters, will return home when Violet’s poet husband, Beverly (Dennis Letts), disappears. The house will be filled with overlapping activities and language. And every nook and cranny will be used as the13 characters spill their collective guts to our total amazement.
Their forceful and poignant story comes to stirring life under Anna D. Shapiro’s marvelously nuanced direction. Her outstanding ensemble of actors from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, most reprising their original roles from the acclaimed Chicago premiere, are excellent. But there are two riveting performances. Deanna Dunagan chillingly embodies Violet and Amy Morton is unforgettable as her eldest daughter, who watches herself morph into her own parents right before our horrified eyes.
August: Osage County is electrifying theater, magnificently served up by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and one of the most exhilarating new plays to find its way to Broadway in several years. Don’t miss it! You may not love it, but we promise you will never be bored.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
August: Osage County opened on December 4, 2007 at the Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eight Avenue. Tickets are available by calling 212 -239-6200 or at the theater box office.