Actors outweigh soap opera script
August: Osage County
Kansas City Repertory Theatre
"August: Osage County" looks at an extended family whose every member harbors some sort of secret, and the play seems to exist so they can reveal their secrets one by one. I could list some of these secrets, but that would essentially spoil the play. Safe to say, if there's any sort of stunning personal revelation that might arise in a domestic drama, it's probably revealed in this story.
Now, any one of these revelations is ripe material for theatre, but when a dozen revelations are strung together over three hours, it feels more like a soap opera than a real family. The effect is incidental, not cumulative. Information is revealed but not followed up on, and some characters just get dropped from the story like victims in a murder mystery. The story is more a matter of topping the previous revelation than building a sustained drama, giving the play a very weak and sometimes non-existent through-line. Only one character seems to make any sort of realization or is allowed to let the drama sink in. The rest just obscure the drama with more drama, and there are a lot of characters here obscuring the drama. We're left with moments that work really well, but when viewed as a whole, it's a complete mess.
While the play wants to portray the destruction of the American family, this family was already destroyed before the play began. Breaking up this family is easy. This is a family whose bonds need repairing. If revealing secrets had brought them together it might have been a monumental and noteworthy drama, but instead it just makes the characters vicious while the drama evaporates. In this new century, isn't it time to start putting families back together?
Despite all this the play is well-mounted, which is all that Kansas City audiences really seem to care about. I can't knock any of the actor's performances nor did I expect to going in. They create better rounded characters than the script gives them and they make a fantastic ensemble. I really did get a sense of relatedness even though the actors cast as sisters were nothing alike. My only big complaint is the woefully underwritten (also useless with a cast this large, and a cop-out considering how it ends) Native American housekeeper, but that's purely a script issue. The actor did what little she could with a nothing role.
Also worth mentioning is the set - a spectacular cutaway of a two story house. I question the need for a second story, but since the Rep is one of the few places in town that can razzle dazzle with scene construction, I could overlook that.
All in all, I'd say the talent severely out-weighed the script. But what the hell do I know? This thing won a Pulitzer, has a star-studded movie in the works, and I'm sure community theaters will be reproducing it for the next fifty years. Obviously I'm wrong.