Dysfunctional family, hot days theme for ‘August: Osage County’

Gordon Jones
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The hot days of summer are now playing at the LSPU Hall, in the form of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.”

First staged in Chicago in 2007, the show is something of a theatrical throwback — a dozen characters populate a theatrical marathon featuring drugs, addiction, alcoholism, seduction, incest and suicide, within the dysfunctional Weston family — something like a latter-day Eugene O’Neill on steroids, Long Day’s Journey into small-town Oklahoma.

The paterfamilias (Dave Walsh) acts as prologue, confiding in the audience by way of a bookish, philosophical monologue before walking out on his incoherent, pill-popping wife (Wendi Smallwood), leaving the matriarch in the company of visiting and live-in daughters (Jill Kennedy, Janet McDonald, Janet O’Reilly), husbands and wives (Mike Nolan, Irena Duma, Glenn Gaulton), admirers (George Robertson, Norm Karlik, Sherriff Chris Hibbs) and grandchild (April Lacey).

All of them are taken care of by a poised, young Cheyenne housekeeper (stilly and movingly represented by Antoinette Fekete), who is one of the few sympathetic characters in this savage comedy of family manners, although a comedy in which there are ultimately tears before bedtime.

Language is blunt, sometimes profane, as family members squabble and quarrel and fight around the fuddled, but vicious matriarch.

The threat of physical violence is never far from the surface, as the family grapples with the suicide of the father.

It is a very loquacious play — often at top volume — with the clan mother generally having the last (as well as the most) word.

The threat of physical violence is never far from the surface, as the family grapples with the suicide of the father. Gordon Jones

Written by a female playwright, the play focuses fundamentally on relations between women: the playwright has some shrewd insights into women’s interplay, less so for guys, who are secondary foci.

Production values in this family saga are high, with an impressive two-level set designed by Clar Doyle.

Individual and ensemble performance are expertly handled by a large and experienced cast, even if Oklahoma accents are few and far between.

But full accentuation, even if achievable, would probably have been distracting. A little dab will do you.

There is a certain grim satisfaction in witnessing the writhing of this nest of vipers, but the high-powered show is demanding for cast and audience alike.

With a 15-minute intermission, playing time rounds out a little short of three hours. By the last half hour, I found myself wondering when the playwright would finally let go.

Capably directed by Janet O’Reilly, the Nothing On production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” continues at the LSPU Hall until Saturday, starting at 8 p.m. and with a 2 p.m. matinee on closing day.

The opening-night audience of about 60-80 patrons didn’t hesitate to get on their feet to applaud the curtain call.

Geographic location: Osage, Chicago, Oklahoma.The Oklahoma

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Recent comments

  • Neil Butler
    November 15, 2013 - 16:55

    Tracy Letts is a man, Gordon.