Thursday, November 08, 2007

To Tell the Truth

"August: Osage County" presented by Steppenwolf Theatre at the Imperial Theatre, November 3, 2007

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre is one of the best regional theatres in the US, bringing yet another excellent production to Broadway in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. There's an air of familiarity about it, feeling much like one would expect of a William Inge play written by Beth Henley. This tale manages to pull out most of the stops of a southern gothic drama set in the plains of Oklahoma. All the elements are there, drug use and abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and more (not to spoil too much of the story here). What I also find impressive is that this is a 3 act play, running just about 3 hours, including intermissions. It's refreshing to find something on Broadway that hasn't been sliced and diced down to a marketable 90-minute one-act.

Let's see, can I sum the plot up in a paragraph? Beverly (the father) drinks. Violet (the mother) takes pills and is dying from cancer of the mouth. Three daughters, Barbara, Karen and Ivy all with their own sets of issues. Busybody in-laws Mattie Fae and Charles, a loser cousin Little Charles and an overly precocious, pot-smoking, teen grandchild Jean all come together with enough revelations to tire Tennessee Williams. Toss in a new fiance, a former boyfriend now the sheriff and a Native American cook/housekeeper and stir it up good.

As Violet, Deanna Dunagan flails, curses, whines, moans, cajoles, manipulates and tortures everyone around her as she suffers her own slow disease. She conveys the full range of this personal hell in which her character suffers, from dazed and drugged moments of stupor to acid-tongued speeches full of bile and vinegar.

Amy Morton's Barbara is the oldest daughter, who bears the full weight of the family's role reversal. Her own marriage is dissolving since her husband has taken up with a student at his college, but they're pretending to still be together as the family works through its crisis. Ms. Morton excels in this trying role, naturally moving from feelings of abandonment to being fully in charge, kicking ass and taking names. As she and her sisters consider their parents' lives amid the revelations following the funeral, one asks, "When they named them the 'Greatest Generation,' have the considered all the other generations?"

Rondi Reed's Mattie Fae reminded me a lot of Lottie Lacey from Inge's "Dark at the Top of the Stairs" - overbearing and dominating both her husband and grown son. She has her own dark secret to share in Act III, which is quite a twist based on the actions of her character.

The others in the cast all acquit themselves well. Particular note to Madeline Martin's Jean, the dead-pan teen who escapes a sticky situation with her aunt's new fiance after they sneak out to share a dooby and he gets frisky.

Director Anna D. Shapiro gets things moving once the exposition of Act I is over. She does well maneuvering the large cast around Todd Rosenthal's three-level set. His open structure lays bare the bones of the house, preparing for the skeletons that will appear from the family's closet.

It's a strong production, well worth seeing.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

So glad you enjoyed the play. I can't wait to see it again, and maybe again after that.