August: Osage County, written by Tracy Letts; produced by Kansas City Repertory Theatre: seen September 23, 2011
Warning: there are minor plot spoilers in this review.
Families are at the heart of most storytelling, especially ones that are falling apart. So explains the article by Ed Matheny in the program for August: Osage County, and he’s right. August: Osage County is the Tony Award winner by Tracy Letts, and is about the Weston family drawn together (and torn apart) by the disappearance of the patriarch, Beverly (played distantly by Kip Niven).
Set in Oklahoma in 2007, Act I sets the plot in motion as Beverly hires Johnna (played wonderfully by Vanessa Severo) to take care of his wife, Violet (played a little too well by Merle Moores), who was recently diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. He then walks out, never to be seen again. The rest of the play is the family slowly gathering together, each with their own issues.
As I wrote, Moores plays Violet a little too well. Act I hit a little too close to home, with Violet interacting with middle daughter Ivy (played by Manon Halliburton) in ways that reminded me that there’s a reason I live five hours away from my family. I love them, and they are nowhere near as bad as the family in August: Osage County (at least with the incest), but the constant guilt trips and ‘you should dress a certain way and act a certain way if you want to get my approval’ was something that made it hard for me to watch. Too many times was there a comment (and not all by Violet) that made me think of my own family.
It’s in Act II that Moores really takes off, playing a caustic, hateful woman that takes everything out on her three kids that just gets worse as the play progresses. It’s her portrayal that made me say at the first intermission that I don’t like this play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. In fact, as the family starts realizing that Beverly committed suicide, I realized that his hiring of Johnna is because the man guessed that his death would be the spark that would make the family finally come to terms with each other, and that the only person who would be willing to stay with Violet is someone who was paid to do it.
Kudos out to Donald Eastman’s set design, as the house is just as important as the play – and the level of detail is astronomical (up to the clock on the wall that I swear he stole from my grandmother’s house). I also have to give a shout out to Mark Kent Varns’ lighting design, as I felt the lighting (especially near the end) was very effective.
This play isn’t perfect, by any means, but that makes it that much more appropriate – as what family is perfect? Family matters in this show about family matters. August: Osage County runs until October 9, and more information can be found at kcrep.org.
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