by Tracy Letts
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Starring Estelle Parsons
Through November 15th at the Canon Theatre

  Reviewed by Robin Breon

Now on to the mother lode of current familial dysfunction plays, August: Osage County. This much honored play by Tracy Letts (Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize) is said to follow in the mold of Long Day's Journey Into Night but to my mind has more in common with Kaufman and Hart than Eugene O'Neill. This might be because although the play's title has it clearly marked on the map as Osage County just north of Tulsa, Oklahoma, its phonological GPS is closer to Dogpatch.

Why should sociolinguistics be an issue here? Because much of the play's pain, which is borne out of the social dysfunction suffered by the Weston family, is here played to comic affect. Critics who saw the show during its Chicago and New York run have suggested that the smaller venues resulted in a more nuanced, internal acting style and that the road tour which now takes the show into bigger theatres has necessitated director Anna D. Shapiro to broaden out the whole thing.

There seems to be nothing that northern, big city audiences like more than a lotta family feudin' coupled with a long, country western southern drawl. Just a knee slapper every time you can depend on it. Conversely, take away the overdrawn use of dialect and supplant it with a flat mid-western vernacular and much of the humor would disappear.

This is unfortunate because Tracy Letts has written a powerful drama here featuring a cast of 13 excellent actors who all have something important to add to the story. One should add here that the play didn't come out of a vacuum and while most contemporary playwright's wouldn't dare to dream of painting on such a broad canvas, Letts's association with Steppenwolf Theatre allowed him not only the opportunity but also the insight into knowing the actor's he was writing for. This is a creative process that is not often available to playwrights today but adds enormously to the end product as evidenced by this work.

Having said all this, you should run to see this show if only for the opportunity to see a once in a lifetime performance by Estelle Parsons as the pill poppin' matriarch of the Weston clan. Although she may play an inebriate, her performance is absolutely intoxicating.

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