Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
May 20, 2011
The locusts and cicadas are so loud, it’s like rolling thunder. But even that racket is drowned out by the brutal backbiting of the Weston family. It’s summer in Oklahoma, and tempers are peaking along with the temps.
Dad, a former poet and long-time alcoholic, sets the stage in the opening monologue, a philosophical treatise on life and his utter exhaustion with it. We never see him again – and neither does anyone in his family, which gathers to wait for news with his brain-addled, cancer-ridden, pill-popping harridan of a wife who will, over the course of a few days’ time, systematically suck the soul out of each of her three daughters in turn, not to mention their mates, her sister and the Native American caretaker Violet’s husband hired just before he disappeared.
Eugene O’Neill meets Sam Shepard in “August: Osage County,” one of the most celebrated plays of the past decade, winner of the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I’m happy to say that Tracy Letts’ drama lives up to expectations in a new production at the Old Globe. The piece only grows deeper and more satisfying with repeat viewings.
Sure, it’s a long, epic potboiler, something of a soap opera, with its endless parade of perverse revelations: from infidelity to incest to pedophilia.
But these are no cardboard TV characters. As written by Mr. Letts, directed by theater wunderkind Sam Gold, and performed by an outstanding ensemble of 13, headed by the magnificent Lois Markle , every moment is credible, every character is a flesh-and-blood, multi-faceted, flawed, damaged and very human individual. The dialogue is terrific – raucous, raunchy and rapacious.
Horrible things are happening here, as we watch this distinctly dysfunctional family implode and self-destruct. We’re both horrified and mesmerized. It’s so raw and real, we feel almost guilty watching, like voyeurs or peeping Toms.
Though the play is deeply disturbing, it’s also very smart and often funny. We may not like any of these people. We certainly wouldn’t want any of them in our families – if we don’t have already have them or their counterparts. But boy, can we feel their pain. Every super-sensitive button is pushed, every character weakness exposed and exploited. Nobody can hurt you quite as exquisitely as family – and this one’s a killer.
The action unfolds in three acts, over three speedy hours, on a marvelous, massive, tri-level dollhouse of a set, brought into relief by moody lighting and evocative sound. The claustrophobic clutter reflects the suffocating constriction of the interactions.
“August: Osage County” is a modern American classic. But because of its sheer scope and size, it probably won’t be produced that frequently. So catch it while you can, in this superb Globe production. The intensity will unnerve you. A stifling Oklahoma summer has descended on San Diego. You may just need to chill out with a cold one after the show.
“August: Osage County” continues through June 12, at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
©2011 PAT LAUNER