Beverly Weston ( Jon DeVries) is trying to hire a house girl. Someone who will be live in help for himself and his wife Violet ( Estelle Parsons), who is battling mouth cancer. After sitting politely silence while he talks about his books and remembering fireworks from her father, Beverly decided that Johnna Monevata ( Delanna Studi) is the right person for the job. But he does warn her that she will just have to jump into things around here. “If you are going to live here, I want you to really live here.” Undaunted, Johnna agrees; she needs the money.
Flash forward five days. Beverly has been missing for three days and the house is suddenly filled with people. Violet’s sister Mattie Fae ( Libby George) has arrived with husband Charlie ( Paul Vincent O’Connor). Nursing a “cocktail”, she incessantly needles anyone in the room about how inconsiderate Beverly’s behavior is and what she would do to Charlie if he ever pulled something like that on her; meanwhile the rest of the family tries not to pay too much attention. Daughter Ivy ( Angelica Torn) tries hard to be by her mother’s side and lend her support, but Violet’s constant judging about Ivy’s less than feminine appearance and lack of a romantic relationship make it difficult for the forty-three year old daughter to be in the same room with her mother for very long.
Violet’s oldest daughter Barbara ( Shannon Cochran) knows all too well the chaos she is walking into by coming home again. Barbara has flown in from Boulder, Colorado with husband Bill ( Jeff Still) and fourteen-year-old daughter Jean ( Emily Kinney). Nervous about her father’s disappearance, she must try to steel herself against her mother’s impending verbal abuse while concealing she estrangement from her cheating husband and raising a rebellious pothead daughter.
And from there, the usual twisted family dynamic of the Weston clan simply takes its course.
August: Osage County is filled with characters easily recognizable to anyone who has a family. It explores the weird, inevitable dynamic of how we all tend to fall into our roles when we are among our family, but visits this issue at a moment in this family’s life when the principal link in their cohesion breaks. Now that Dad is dead, no one is playing nice anymore. People get mean. That is to say, the “secrets” that people have been hiding from each other are suddenly, and in some cases viciously exposed. In three acts that will go by quickly, the play is rich with distinct voices and points of view. The text is beautifully peppered with candor and emotion and venom, providing an adventurous and challenging landscape that all the actors in the play navigate with ease, passion and vigor.
Perhaps what I find most striking about this play is the point it illuminates about family. It argues, if family is just random chance of biology, than the act of loving one another as family is a choice. The tragic irony for the Weston sister is despite choosing men that are wrong for them, all three women still want and deeply love their man. Anything that could possibly be going on with this family is. Anything that is the wrong thing; anything that one would think another would not to do to his or her own family. The universal issues of drug abuse and pedophilia are seriously explored, as is the issue of responsibility in how adult siblings manage an ailing parent.
August: Osage County is perhaps one of the most adept, complex and compelling pieces of dramatic theatre I have had exepereinced, in terms of subject matter, performances, genre, style and production. It is one of the few show I have ever seen where every character is given an arc and seeing most of those arcs through to their conclusion is necessary to have a satisfying conclusion to the tapestry of tales as a whole. There is no fat in this play, it’s lean, it’s powerful and it’s brilliant every moment you will be sitting there. I will hold back heartwarming. This show is not a warm and fuzzy experience, but you certainly will experience every other emotion in the spectrum. This show is not to be missed.
August: Osage County runs now through Otober 18th, 2009 at:
at the Music Center
downtown Los Angeles
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012