Yes, the extended running time may scare some people off. But I've seen shorter shows that felt longer, and I've rarely enjoyed watching family dysfunction more than this.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer
Sometimes you don't love your family - you survive it.
of the themes at the heart of this epic 2007 Pulitzer- and Tony
Award-winning drama by Chicago's Tracy Letts (widely considered one of
the best American dramatists currently writing for the stage).
no mistake, August: Osage County is an epic in every sense - boasting a
cast of 13, a set that calls for a multi-level house, and a running time
of around three hours and twenty minutes. This is not a small show in
The "more is more" approach doesn't always work in
director Ann Hodges' production - some of the show's "shoutier" scenes
don't ring entirely true.
But in its quieter moments, this sprawling
family drama is both captivating and terrifying in its authenticity.
Martha Henry and Frank Adamson in "August: Osage County" (Bruce Monk)
Dysfunctional family dramas are not uncommon, and plotwise, there's not much that sets August: Osage County apart. The disappearance of the Weston family patriarch, Beverly (Frank Adamson) brings the three Weston sisters (Sharon Bajer, Miriam Smith, and Julia Arkos) back into the home of their cancer-afflicted, pill-addicted, and venomously savage mother Violet (Martha Henry).
But Osage County surpasses lesser plays of the genre in its scope, in the rich depth of the characters Letts creates, and in the musicality of its dialogue.
There's plenty to chew on in the themes Letts explores through the Weston clan's dysfunction as well. "You have to admire the purity of the survivor's instinct," Beverly says in a poetic opening monologue. But is Violet, a survivor by virtue of her cruelty, truly admirable? Are the real "survivors" those who are left standing at the end, or those who know when to walk away?
While this all sounds very heavy, Letts laces his script with plenty of pitch-black humour, and Hodges and her cast mine most of those moments for full effect. Even a scene that ends with a daughter choking her mother draws laughs in a "funny because it's true" way.
Hodges directs the production with delicate skill, particularly considering she practically has to take on the roles of traffic cop and symphony conductor at points. Some scenes call for up to 11 characters on stage - and speaking - simultaneously.
She creates striking tableaus with her cast - a scene that centres on the three sisters features a background of characters playing cards, gazing out a window, reading on the porch, and staring vacantly at the television - and it beautifully captures the reality of being trapped in the familial home, struggling with boredom as much as the drama of family. There are stories behind the story here, and it makes for compelling viewing.
Brian Perchaluk's detailed set deals with the difficulty of creating a multi-level house on a long stage with a low ceiling smartly, and creates an effective sense that the Weston home - always stifling hot, timeless and perpetually dark thanks to shuttered windows - is a purgatory the characters struggle to escape.
And Hodges' cast handles this marathon of a play with aplomb. Stratford veteran Martha Henry tackles the remarkably unsympathetic Violent bravely, and rises to the challenge of moving from drug-addled loopiness to calculating cruelty with some spectacular results. Still, she's nearly upstaged by some of the supporting players, particularly Sharon Bajer as the alpha sister, Barbara. Her character has the biggest journey to make over the course of the play, and Bajer amply proves she has the range to pull it off.
While there's not a single weak performance in the mostly-local cast, Arne MacPherson is a standout in one of the play's smaller roles as Steve, the delightfully sleazy fiancee of another sister. And as the youngest member of the Weston clan, Samantha Hill elevates what could easily become a one-note "sullen teen" role as Barbara's daughter Jean.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer (CBC)
Yes, the extended running time may scare some people off. But I've seen shorter shows that felt longer, and I've rarely enjoyed watching family dysfunction more than this. August: Osage County
demands a lot from an audience, but it delivers rich rewards in the end.