Occasionally a play hits Broadway that gets the critics and audiences into an uproar of uniform praise and downright worship. I’ve never seen one of those plays before. Truth be told, I have only seen a handful in my day. The last was a brilliant one man act called ‘Barrymore‘ starring Christopher Plummer in 1998. Jesus, it’s been 11 years since I have tried to broaden my culture and take in a live performance; and after seeing August: Osage County I dare say I will be heading to the theater more regularly.
The play gets points right off the bat for NOT being a musical. One of the factors preventing me from going to the theater was my incorrigible hatred of musicals. Osage County is no musical. It had been described to me by an old woman outside the Princess of Wales Theater as a ‘splendid story of family, alcoholism, drugs and betrayal’.
I bought two tickets immediately.
The story is set in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, 60 miles northwest of Tulsa. The dark, comedic theme was established from the opening scene as Beverly Weston (Jon De Vries) interviews eventual housekeeper, Johnna (Delanna Studi), a Cheyenne Indian. Beverly Weston is the patriarch of the Weston family – an alcoholic poet who had once been praised for his prose but who now lives a life in an inebriated darkness with his prescription drug addict wife, Violet (Estelle Parsons).
Act 1 introduces most of the Weston family. The eldest daughter, Barbara (Shannon Cochran) has been recently separated from her husband, Bill (Jeff Still) and navigating through her own inner demons while trying to win the affection of her 14 year old daughter, Jean (Emily Kinney). Ivy Weston (Angelica Torn) is the middle child who took the role of pseudo caregiver for her parents who were too busy self medicating to be trusted to take care of their own affairs.
The story begins to take shape when Beverly goes missing for 5 days and is eventually found dead in an apparent suicide. His death brings the rest of the Weston clan back to the estate where individual frailness and a catacomb of closeted skeletons seems to haunt each individual family member. There are so many tributaries, sub plots and circumstances that listing them would turn this review into a novella (the play itself was over 3 hours long); but the authenticity displayed by the actors, especially Parsons and Fordham, afforded no worries about the time elapsed. A keen, witty and often unpredictable dialog created one of the funniest and heart wrenching stories I have ever seen or read, typified by the relentless audience laughter heard throughout the performance. The rapid fire punch lines are balanced with tragic and sometimes evil revelations, such as the youngest Weston daughter’s fiancée and his advances on their 14 year old niece, or the apparent substance abuse problem Barbara inherited from both her parents.
August: Osage County is a testament to the individual darkness that surfaces during a time of tragedy; a forcing-your-hand environment and a catalogue of weaknesses hidden in plain sight. To borrow a line from the play, “It isn’t that I am proud of myself, or that I won’t do things in the future I won’t be proud of – it’s just that all of us live somewhere in the middle.”
I’ll drink to that.