Monday, September 28, 2009
August: Osage County, the Tony-award winning best play of 2008, is here at the Ahmanson now. Though the performance runs three and a half hours (with two intermissions), the lively play kept us all engrossed to the end. Tracy Letts' story of a family gathering in response to the patriarch's disappearance packs all the drama and intensity of an Albee play, but leavened with a bit more humor, and with the cast and complexity of a telenovela. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf meets Six Feet Under, if you will. Like Who's Afraid, it touches on themes of disappointment of not living up to one's full academic potential, but that's only a bit of background texture to the soap opera of addiction, suicide, incest, infidelity, and pedophilia. The Fisher family of Six Feet Under has got nothing on the Weston family of Osage County when it comes to putting the "fun" in dysfunctional family. Amidst all of the family secrets that get revealed, the play thoughtfully probes the relationships between children and parents, between sisters, and between spouses. An all-around strong cast was lead by Estelle Parsons in a memorable performance as the pill-popping matriarch (and the 82-year-old actress is amazingly fit, running up and down the stairs often in the play). The whole ensemble worked great magic together, and many moments in the play benefited from their impeccable comic and dramatic timing. The entire play takes place on a single set, a doll-house-style cut-away three-story home, with the only change of scene being the shift of light from one room to another. It suits perfectly, giving the story just enough space to unfold, while keeping the intensity of a single set (the play never steps out to get some air, so to speak). There's a bit of porch, allowing characters to enter and exit the family house, and have a few moments outside, but the house totally dominates the stage and underscores the fixedness of the central character, who is the only family member never to leave the house throughout the play. Amidst this train-wreck of a family, there are some good laughs, powerful drama, and great humanity.