Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bull's eye

It's rare to see a show that so perfectly hits the target that I'd change nothing to it. Usually it's half an hour too long or too short, or the cast is uneven, or the writing is awkward, or the director's got no sense of pacing. I don't have a single quibble with August: Osage County: if you're going to pay full price for a Broadway show this year, make it this one—and I say this unequivocally and enthusiastically.

An import from Chicago, this Steppenwolf production does not reinvent the wheel: We've seen the basic premise (a family reunites and implodes as dirty laundry gets aired and old wounds bleed again) a gazillion times, with only attending details or the reunion's occasion (here it's a funeral) changing. But Tracy Letts—whose Bug was quite good but didn't let on he had something of this scope in him—has put together what amounts to a new American classic, ambitious in scope and ruthless in execution. The play lasts three hours and each of the three acts ratchets up the tension another notch (or two, or five), until you find yourself both spent and exhilarated. You also laugh a lot at the domestic travails of this Oklahoma family, and the best part is that you often laugh just as you are shocked and horrified. The depiction of middle American familial dynamics often reminded me of The Corrections, though Letts has a penchant for the gothic and a noir fascination for the abyss that Jonathan Franzen lacks.

It's also extraordinarily exciting to see such a batch of superlative actors, especially since they're relatively new to us in New York. I particularly loved Deanna Dunagan as the pill-popping gorgon of a matriarch and Amy Morton (whose dry intelligence reminded me of Allison Jeanney in her stage days) as daughter Barbara (both pictured). Morton hits several virtuosic peaks, but her expression when Barbara realizes she's her mother's daughter, all right, is particularly memorable.

And since this is Broadway, there are T-shirts for sale in the theater's lobby. A couple of them sport lines from the play, like "The world is round. Get used to it." I would have preferred the more pungent "Eat your fish, bitch!" It brings out a laugh in context, and so do my two favorite lines from Is He Dead? (a Mark Twain play recently unearthed and now on Broadway in an adaptation by David Ives): "And you thought you could hide the dachshund" and "Even for a Frenchman, this is excessive."


Fibo said...

NICE Blog :)

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Thanks, it's a labor of love (past midnight, logged on to Blogger…)