Saturday, February 14, 2009

Theatre Review: August: Osage County

by Eric Green

"Plains Thinking" by Steppenwolf

A perfect combination of probably the best "regional theatre" in the States, the Steppenwolf from Chicago, the writing of Tracy Letts [a member of Steppenwolf], and an outstanding cast directed by Anna D. Shapiro has brought August: Osage County to Broadway in NYC.

Steppenwolf is a great theatre company which specializes in Ensemble presentations; a theatre presentation that is truly satisfying.

Topping the cast as Violet Weston is Estelle Parsons as the matriarch of this improbably family. The term dysfunctional is probably well overused to describe a family that has many challenges to face on a normal day, but when some special happen, like a death in the family, the challenges become Herculean.

The stage set must be cited for comment since Parsons has to climb up and down two sets of stairs for much of the performance. And, the performance is a hefty 3 and one half hours. Ms. Parsons is 81 years old. Her physical prowess is only equaled by her acting strengths.

Another recognizable actor is John Cullum who plays, Beverly, Violet's literary husband. And, Elizabeth Ashley another familiar actor, plays the sister of Violet.

The play takes place outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Pauhuska, Oklahoma. As is made clear early on in the play, these are "Plains" people who think "Plains" way of thinking. They are no Midwesterners or borderstate people.

Well as you can imagine Letts rolls out a cast of 13 characters, all of who play major rolls in this engrossing play. The entire play takes place in an old, large country home. I say that because to produce a play of this size is very expensive, something that will be less possible in the near future. Bringing this play to Broadway took a major effort from producers and supports alike.

Letts and Shapiro together give the audience a performance of acting that is never slow, never tedious and never without another family wrinkle that is sure to get your interest.

The 3 and one-hour performance is difficult enough, but on Wednesday and Saturday add a matinee production. These are hard working actors.

Given the economic crisis, tickets for this play and similar plays are much more affordable. So, if you are in NYC or around NYC or are planning a trip to NYC, be sure to see this play. You will not be disappointed.