Sunday, January 13, 2008

Steppenwolf's Production of "August: Osage County"

This family drama lasts three hours, but I was hooked by every minute of it in the Imperial Theater. The characters are sharply delineated, the scenes well-constructed, the dialogue intelligent, the plot believable, and, finally, moving. The set showed a cross-section of a two-storeyed house. The action moved fluidly from room to room--porch, living room, dining room, stair landing, attic--taking place at one point, quite operatically, in all the rooms when the house was filled with altercations.

The patriach of the family, Beverly Weston, quotes T. S. Eliot in his first speech, and later he kills himself by drowning. His bloated body is found days later, his eyes eaten by fish. The three daughters converge on their mother in the family home in Oklahoma, and all their lives unravel in accusations and acrimony. The older generation grew up in poverty and abuse, the younger in vain attempts to live up to some older standards. All marriages are in trouble, one way or another, all plans to marry a matter of complication and compromise.

One weak aspect of the writing is in the character of the Native American live-in help. Johnna Monevata is too obviously a dramatic device. Also, while the writing, from moment to moment, is always pointed and entertaining, the play does not transcend the genre to speak of something beyond family: it is artful, but not archetypal. One reason for this may be that it hedges its bet with too much art--T. S. Eliot, Faulkner (Light in August), Dickens (Satis House, with its drawn shades and artificial light), Nabokov (Lolita)--and the allusions do not cohere into one deep image.

The ensemble acting was consistently superb. The stand outs, for me, were Deanna Dunagan who played Violet Weston the mother, and Amy Morton who played the eldest daughter Barbara.

Playwright: Tracy Letts
Director: Anna D. Shapiro
Scene Design: Todd Rosenthal

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