No family (or script) is perfect
August: Osage County
Kansas City Repertory Theatre
I had to find out what all the hype was about. "August: Osage County" is one of those plays that critics gushed over, that actors would love to brag about being cast in, and regional repertory theatres scrambled to get their hands on. So there I was, sitting in the Spencer Theater, eager for the curtains to open and waiting for my life to be changed by this production.
Opening on a hot, summer day in Oklahoma, we learn that the alcoholic patriarch of the Weston family is hiring a housekeeper/caretaker for his cancer-ridden, pill-popping wife. Then the patriarch disappears one night, mobilizing the rest of the family to descend upon the house with their own set of problems. Life is already difficult for these people. You know within the first ten minutes that the audience is going to be taken on a spiral-down journey to the heart-breaking mess this family is creating.
To tell you the rest of the story would cause me to reveal some major plot points. What I can disclose to you is that one by one, each character reveals a secret (how soap opera-like) that contributes to the breakdown of this doom-laden family. While American audiences love their tragic family dramas such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Buried Child", this particular one struck me differently. I felt like I had seen it before. The secrets were shocking, gut-wrenching, and I wanted them to stop. I felt more and more burned out with each and every confession. Upon reflection of these reactions, I was disappointed. Was I that desensitized to the difficulties our families face today? Were there just too many secrets revealed in one play? A week later and I'm still struggling with this.
Despite my battles with the script, I envied the actors in this production. The characters were richly created – whether by the playwright or the actors themselves, I don't know – but anyone who has performed onstage would want to tackle any one of them. Kip Niven, who we see briefly in the first scene as patriarch Beverly, played his role with raw sincerity, and I kept wishing until the end of the play that somehow playwright Tracy Letts would bring him back in at least a memory scene or two. Merle Moores as Beverly's wife Viola brought a Medea-like strength and madness to her character. The oldest daughter, Barbara, played with fierce wit by Cheryl Weaver, was a well-constructed character to oppose and challenge her equally brazen mother. Manon Halliburton and Jennifer Mays are also worth mentioning, as Barbara's younger sisters who are polar opposites in personality. Both actors shine in their character's quirks.
The impressive two-story house set designed by Donald Eastman, is reminiscent of any house you see in suburban America. The fourth wall is gone, and we're invited to peer into this family crisis. It leads you to realize that this kind of family and their woes can be right next door.
So did it change my life? No. However, the sheer energy and effort of this production makes me understand why we need to add "August: Osage County" to the list of the American theatre's portrayal of great family tragedies.