We finally saw the highly-anticipated "August: Osage County" last night at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago. Tracy Letts' play was a phenomenon: from its beginnings at Chicago's Steppenwolf theater, to a smashing run on Broadway, five Tony Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize, the show is here for a two-week run, back in its home town. To say that this is an emotionally-charged and complex domestic comedy-drama is an understatement. It's the most stirring and troubling portrait of a deluded family since "Whos's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?".
The premise of the play concerns the disappearance of the patriarch of an Oklahoma family, and the remaining family members' confrontation of long-buried truths. At the center of the maelstrom is Violet, the wife of the missing man, and mother of three daughters who come home to deal with the crisis, bringing with them their own failures and foibles, only to be exposed raw . Violet suffers from mouth cancer, is addicted to a host of different painkillers, and has lost her ability to preserve the fragile, arbitrary bonds of her family. During the course of the play, she toys with the audiences' sympathies as she presides over the vicious destruction of her daughters' lives.
But, I asked Mark this morning...what is the play ABOUT?
That is where "August: Osage County" rises above the average drama, with its tightly woven themes and well-paced emotional arc. After thinking about it all day, I write this in appreciation of a wonderful piece of playwriting that has given me a renewed energy and inspiration to move forward with my own play:
It's about caring for aging and difficult parents as well as raising children in a world lacking in kindness and self-restraint. It's about the rage and guilt experienced by the caretakers of loved ones with alcoholism and drug addiction. It's about how we build layers of self-deception to protect ourselves from painful truths, and how easily these layers can be stripped away. It's about life's choices, and regret, and the struggle to keep up the appearance of happiness. It's about greed, anger, the unfairness of love, and the way marriages are saved or destroyed without logic. It's about the absurdity, even hilarity, of the relationships between people that just happen to be related to one another. It's about our ignorance of those who work behind the scenes to help us live better, even as we insist on destroying our lives. It's about poets, and writers, and confessions and expressions of love. It asks if some truths are best kept hidden, and whether we can save each other from our bad choices with the right action at the right time.