By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
August: Osage County is a very funny play, filled with pending traumas of incest, an act of felony-lechery and a dinner-scene brawl with as many smashed plates as a Three Stooges routine. Violet attacks her daughter, Barbara (Shannon Cochran, in a performance of scathing wit and intelligence), assailing Barbara’s Boomer generation for its selfishness. “He believed in something greater than himself, and so do I,” Violet lectures Barbara about the deceased Weston, with blistering and ludicrous self-righteousness, given that Violet spends half of her life in medicated oblivion.
“Good luck with that,” Barbara retorts.
Later, Violet critiques the younger generation for its inability to hold marriages together, boasting that her own endured decades of challenges and traumas. Barbara has to remind her mother that Violet’s marriage ended after decades because her husband has drowned himself.
Paradoxically, the play feels as long as it does, largely because the power of subtext, of the unspoken, keeps getting punctured by the jokes. It doesn’t dig deeply enough to justify its length, but when it does make that subterranean plunge, and lays off the one-liners for a minute or two, the power of the drama, and of these terrific actors, rumbles through the theater with exquisite grandeur.
Parsons’ Violet is so convincingly bipolar, nobody can tell who they’re meeting whenever she appears. Husky-throated and careening between the faked vulnerability of a child and the attack-dog bark of a rabid pit bull, Parsons has created more than a character: She has created a dance with such physical ebbs and flows, it passes muster as a piece of choreography. Jeff Still is also grand as Barbara’s stoic, sensible husband, Bill Fordham. Amy Warren’s babbling Karen is a monument to self-deception, and as her fiancé, Laurence Lau tries to hit on his sister-in-law’s 14-year-old daughter (Emily Kinney) with an authenticity that redefines smarmy.
If there’s a 40-year-old Eugene O’Neill out there with a thunderously epic family drama to tell, I doubt he would be able to have his play produced today, certainly not in the regional theaters or in New York. Even with its jokes and physical farce, Letts’ tragedy-lite almost bankrupted Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre with its cast of 13. I doubt we’re a culture that can handle a more probing and somber examination of almost anything, for reasons having to do with diminishing attention spans, the various influences of iPhones and Twitter, and the economic imperatives of doing professional theater.
For these reasons, I’m grateful that Letts’ play is as good as it is, but that gratitude comes laced with regret for what we’ve become.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY | By TRACY LETTS | Presented by STEPPENWOLF THEATRE COMPANY and CENTER THEATRE GROUP at the AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn. | Through October 18 | (213) 972-4400