Sunday, January 27, 2008
August: Osage County at Imperial Theater Jan. 24
The much-raved about Tracy Letts play August: Osage County was a bit of a disappointment. New York Times critic Charles Isherwood gushed: "It is, flat out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years." My opinion? "How sad."
Because if this is true, it's no wonder Broadway sticks to musicals of movies like "Legally Blonde" and "Xanadu" and rarely gives the nod to straight dramas. Because if August: Osage County is indeed the best drama on Bway in years, it's no wonder that producers find straight drama a hard sell.
August: Osage County is like an inversion of Pinter's "The Homecoming." Like the Pinter work, all the action takes place in the family home. Pinter has a reunion of three sons; Letts reunites three daughters. Pinter central character is the father of the brood; Letts uses the mother.
There, the comparisons end. Whereas Pinter's terse, taut language is full of innuendos, mystery and nuance, Letts chooses the language--and plot devices--most commonly found in American soap operas, replete with screaming matches, prescription drug habits, intervention!, mundane power struggles, pedophiles, illicit love affairs, incest and more... and more... and more... And everything is spelled out, so the audience never has to guess what really happened.
The play began with so much promise. A quiet scene: the father, Beverly, played with quiet intensity by the playwright's father Dennis Letts, spills the bare facts of what his life has become to Jana, a Native American he hopes to hire to take care of things around the house. He is an award-winning poet who published only one book, idolizes T.S. Eliot, abhors modern society, and regrets that he's reached a point in his life that requires him to become a member of that most distasteful of all classes, "the hiring class." The scene ends with him hiring Jana. Lights out. Scene 2. All hell breaks loose, as the drug-addicted mother, played impressively by Deanna Dunagan, discovers that Beverly is gone, and her daughters, one-by-one, return to their birthplace to expose and verbalize long-hidden family wounds.
The exposure and verbalization goes on and on and on. Too much plot drags the play down. By the time 2-1/2 hours had passed, the play had unwound to the point of being completely ridiculous, destroying the truly beautiful ending: by the time it finally came, I lost all empathy for the characters who been reduced to caricatures.
The directing by Anna D. Shapiro was tremendous, and, overall, the acting was superb. But it made me even more convinced that I have to get my plays on Broadway. Plays like this can further extend the tortuous death of real drama on the Great White Way, because if this is the best that audiences can expect, they won't be coming back.
Posted by Three Rooms Press at 4:13 PM