Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-Tony Award winning play, August: Osage County, which opened last night at the Actors' Playhouse, is a satisfyingly complex dramedy where dense family psychodrama takes center stage.
The emotionally charged and darkly funny play, about a dysfunctional family forced to come together and deal with some thorny baggage, packs a palpable punch with an outstanding cast and a mercurial performance by Annette Miller, who plays the family matriarch Violet.
As the lights go up for the play's prologue, we see Weston family patriarch Beverly in his book-strewn study. He's downing a bottle of Scotch and speaking with Johnna, the Native American woman he intends to hire as the new housekeeper. "My wife takes pills and I drink," he rambles through a half-drunken slur. "That's the bargain we've struck."
The entire scene is ferocious playwriting at its best, and Beverly's inebriated soliloquy sets the tone for what is to be a volatile, funny and gripping narrative.
The rest of the Weston clan, including sisters Ivy, Barbara and Karen, are forced to come together at their pastoral Oklahoma homestead after booze-hound Beverly gets up and walks out of the house one day and simply vanishes. At the center of it all is Violet, the 65-year old family matriarch who pops pills and narcotics and in her drug-addled states, confronts the family with their dark and astonishing secrets.
One of the revelations of the Actors' Playhouse production in particular, is the massive and beautifully intricate set, designed by Sean McClelland. The entire tale takes place in the Weston's old home, and that's exactly what the audience gets. With amazingly intricate detail, the weathered structure is essentially a metaphor for the Weston family's weary plight. But the home also becomes a character onto itself thanks to McClelland and his crew's masterwork. It's essentially a three-story house built on a stage.
At just over three hours in length, August has an operatic feel to it. Comedy and tragedy is present, and there's even a Greek chorus appearance by Eric Clapton's Slowhand album. Letts' characters shine through extended monologues while the family's incendiary drama gets more and more convoluted as the play progresses. August: Osage County is a hilarious, complex, highly entertaining and wrenching look into a family's oft-disturbing dynamics.
Look for our full review in this week's issue.
August: Osage County at the Actors' Playhouse (280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables) runs through April 3. Weeknights and matinees tickets are $42 Friday and Saturday evenings are $50. Call 305-444-9293 for tickets. Visit actorsplayhouse.org