Monday, September 28, 2009

August: Osage County

With more incest, deception, abuse, and dysfunction than a Greek tragedy, August: Osage County is not your typical family drama. Tracy Letts' Pulitzer-winning, three-hour-plus saga is intricately written, exhaustingly well-acted, and stomach-wrenching to watch.

At 82, Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons blew all pastoral images of a Great Plains family matriarch out the window with her abrasive, pill-addicted character. Her poet husband has just walked out the door and into the lake, causing her three daughters and other assorted family members to come home for his funeral in a cloud of old hurts and confusion. A family this dysfunctional trapped in one house is a ticking time bomb, and with each lie that unravels, no one escapes unscathed: adultery, child abuse, addiction, incest, and general cruelty.

The howlings and shrieks of a family in pain, with the ramblings of the oft-high mother, made the show a bit hard to hear and understand at times, but it did add a distinct sense of mass confusion. Shannon Cochran, as eldest daughter Barbara, matched Parsons in sheer power on stage, as she slowly grew into a slightly younger but equally cruel version of her mother. The feeling of entrapment in their Great Plains home is palpable, and the play ends with no more hope than when it began. Unlike the Greek tragedies where someone usually repents after the bloodshed, the family of August: Osage County is left with nothing but their own wreckage with which to try to salvage any kind of life.

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