Theatre: August: Osage County



On the afternoon of new years eve I found myself at the National Theatre watching this production alone. It is a good idea not to invite people who have to cook dinner for six to a matinee that lasts for three hours. This play has been a sell out however so I didn't have trouble getting rid of the spare ticket. However I was worried about how much of an effort it would be to sit through this production. It turned out that this breathless production is so fast-paced, so gripping and thrilling that the time whizzed by. This production, from the Steppenwolf Company in Chicago won the Tony this year for best play (among others) and it is easy to see why.

The premise in this dark, dark comedy is that the Weston family is reunited in the family home in Oklahoma after their father disappears. This sets the scene for a series of disturbing revelations. The play has been marketed here as a view into a dysfunctional American family. The humour in Tracy Letts script however, is less derived from the over-the-top plot developments, than in the banal and ordinary aspects of family life. The laughter was knowing laughter from an audience that didn't see it as dysfunctional but realistic. It is "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for all the family... Some of the terriffic dialogues includes lines like:

Violet (the mother): Some things, though, like the silver, that's worth a pretty penny. But if you like I'll sell it to you, cheaper'n I might get in an auction.
Barbara (daughter): Or you might never get around to the auction and then we can just have it for free after you die.

In fact there is so much crackling dialogue in this play and everyone's got so much to say that it overlaps and interweaves at times. It reminded me of what my dad would say about how in our family the first person to come up for air was declared the listener...

In the programme notes, it is clear this play is intended to be the last word on the real America family first mentality that pervaded conservative politics in the US over the last eight years. It certainly is unrelenting in its attacks on the banalities that families get worked up about, but if you are paying enough attention there is also a warm heart to this play and hope. Which surely is thoroughly American. The run at the National Theatre is only short, but this play will be around for long time. It is certainly one of the best new plays of recent times that I have seen and there no doubt will be future productions. A film production is also in the works... See it with the family in mind...

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