Tuesday, March 4, 2008

August: Osage County

Everyone had told me I needed to see it blah blah blah. So finally on Sunday - a little treat for myself to celebrate the run of "Happy Endings" - I bought a discount ticket for the mezzanine to see this play that everyone around me cannot stop jawing about. Brian, Dena, Dave, Phillip...I mean, the constant chorus of "Have you seen August Osage yet oh my God!" It was getting annoying. So I went.

Well, guess what. I can’t wait to go back and see it again. Over three hours long, and like Dena said, “It feels like twenty minutes.”

I don’t know if August is the great play for the ages. My friend Matt said, “It’s not Virginia Woolf,” and I agree. But I didn't care. The whole thing is so damnably entertaining. Deana Dunagan, who I’ve never seen before, I strongly suspect is giving the performance of her life. I can’t comprehend someone giving a better turn as the mad, vicious fucked-up mother Violet. Amy Morton is also a wonder as Barbara, the daughter who stands up to Mom and is the one most in danger of turning into her.

I've thought about the play for a few days now, and in many ways, it's a damn mess. I think Tracy Letts lives in mortal fear of boring an audience for thirty seconds, so if he has to throw in shocking revelations about incest, infidelity, pedophilia…by God, he’s gonna do it and do it cheerfully. He gets away with murder in this script - no, wait he gets away with serial killing - because there are so many things in it that just shouldn’t work. There are too many hairpin curves, too many melodramatic, plot-driven shifts in character. The play is stuffed with wrong turns, dead ends and red herrings. It’s over the top, unfocused, messy, tangential, in desperate need of a strong director who’ll cut the shit out of it, right? Right?

And it's glorious. Letts gets away with every cheat in the book because the play is so hellishly fun - even as you’re being hornswoggled, you’re having a blast. I wish it was six hours long with a dinner break.

It made me – in one way – think of Angels in America. Like Angels, on paper August Osage sounds like a recipe for a disaster. Angels is in two parts, seven hours, no stars when it was first produced, about Mormons, Reaganism, and AIDS. Producing it on Broadway sounded like a sure fire way to lose every penny. Now take Osage. An American play – over three hours - one set family drama where Dad is a drunk, Mom is a drug addict and the title is not “Long Days Journey Into Night.” Madness. Producing it would be insanity, without an extensive development process where they would tighten it, focus it, make it produceable, and trim the cast of thirteen down to five. That’s what you’d need to get this play to New York, right?

And funny. There were lines in this play – I hadn’t laughed at anything like that since I saw a preview of The Producers seven years ago. I want to go see it again.


Tara Dairman said...

"hornswoggled"--what a great word! Is that a real word, or did you make it up? Awesome.

I agree that A:OC felt like it was about 20 minutes long and that as soon as it was over I was asking when I could see it again. In fact, I pretty much agree with your entire assessment.

I was sad to hear that Mr. Letts, senior, passed away recently.

David Johnston said...

I love 'hornswoggled.' No, I didn't make it up, but I wish I had. Like 'bamboozled' or 'gobsmacked.'

Tara Dairman said...

Have you seen the Tracy Letts rap video thing on YouTube? Freakin' hilarious.