Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, August: Osage County is a sweeping southern gothic theatrical three act magnum opus of a play that takes family dysfunction to a whole new unthinkable level; peppered with a vast array of characters-thirteen to be precise-who represent three circles of different family groupings but who, entwined together, comprise one giant whole family under the umbrella of the matriarchs, Beverly and Violet Weston, this is a drama where hidden pain, unfulfilled dreams and misplaced love explode like a never ending firecracker.
Filled to the brim with crackling dialog that is both heartfelt, witty, edgy and caustic, the play takes place over a couple of weeks during the dog days of August in Pawhuska, Oklahoma at the sprawling family home of Beverly and Violet Weston. With rooms aplenty, each one is inhabited by one person or another who is acting out his or her own individual drama, but they are all strung together by the family blood that connects them. While some try to rally against that fact, others blindly accept it, because, in the end, family is still family, regardless of how bad one perceives the relations to be. The family structure, at its core, is already on the brink of thin ice. The only thing that seems to keep it in place are the occasional laughs, hard-edged put-downs and the glimpses of vulnerability that do shine through the surface with the power to touch, no matter how hard the sundry lot characters try to keep their emotions at bay. But as the play progresses, Violet Weston, the pill popping motherly matriarch, begins to reveal that she is oh so privy to a lot more then she lets everybody in on. She is the holder of the family demons, never mind her own issues. Yet, because she has the knowledge of what makes her family tick, she, when the need arises, does not hesitate in the slightest way to wield that power when it works to her benefit. The drama really unfolds at the beginning when Beverly, a once prominent poet and husband to Violet, turns up missing. His disappearance is why the scattered family members are all under the same roof in the first place, and despite their politeness, it is quite evident that they wish they could be anywhere but there, because for them, home is not really where the heart is. And by the play’s end, everyone is sling shotted to their own corner of the world, primarily because blood is not thicker than water, no matter how hard folks try to make it so.
Each act strips a little more detail, allowing the audience and reader almost a voyeuristic privilege, if one can call it that. And while this play is not exactly what I would qualify as homespun family entertainment, it was compelling and engaging nonetheless. It must have been an amazing stage experience! And I’m sure Eugene O’Neil (were he alive today) would have tipped his hat to Letts for taking a simple family drama and kicking it up a notch. As a reader of this work, if you can tolerate the numerous characters, figuring out who is who and how they are related and what their individual problems are then the ebb and flow of what is happening slowly begins to gel and the play becomes a true edifying theatre experience. A great read.
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