Let’s Review: Dark humor + dysfunctional family = oddly appealing drama ‘August: Osage County’ at the Old Globe
By Diana Saenger
Is it only in America that playwrights write about and audiences laugh at family dysfunction?
In his Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama, “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts creates a family torn apart by their father’s disappearance. As they gather to figure out what to do with their drug-addicted, iron-willed mother, the situation exposes all of their own tragic flaws.
In a play that reveals characters who tackle cancer, addiction, incest and infidelity, Letts’ profound dark humor lightens every throw of the dart of disorder.
“My wife takes pills and I drink. That’s the bargain we’ve struck” are words spoken by Beverly Weston (Robert Foxworth) in the first and only few moments he’s onstage. Those words forewarn of what’s to come.
When Beverly disappears and is ultimately found dead, his children return home, mainly because that’s what children should do and not out of any sense of a loving bond. Barbara Fordham (Angela Reed) arrives with her husband Bill (Joseph Adam) and daughter Jean (Ronette Levenson) in tow. Barbara has already helped her mother get off an addiction to drugs once, so she’s not very empathic about going down that road again. She’s also dealing with a 15-year-old daughter who smokes pot and a husband who’s had an affair with one of his students.
Trying to create some order in this chaos, Barbara must also listen to her sister Karen’s (Kelly McAndrew) high-speed rants about how happy she is with new finance (Robert Maffia), and deal with sister Ivy (Carla Harting), who is having an affair with her cousin Charles (Haynes Thigpen).
The ensemble cast – which includes Robin Pearson Rose (Mattie Fae Aiken), Guy Boyd (Charlie Aiken), Todd Cerveris (Sheriff Deon Gilbeau), Kimberly Guerrero (Johnna Monevata) – is amazing. But it’s Lois Markle (“Hedda Gabler,” “True West,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Albee’s Women” – at The Old Globe) as matriarch Violet Weston who gives a tour-de-force performance.
With each revelation about her own self – “I have a greater affinity with the damaged,” we learn how troubled this woman truly is. And the bitter barbs she constantly throws at her girls, “you are as sexy as a cardboard box,” naturally curb their concern for their cruel mother.
Applause also goes to The Globe’s design team on this production. David Zinn (Scenic), Clint Ramos (Costumes), Japhy Weideman (Lighting) and Fitz Patton (Sound) have created a set that is almost a character in the play.
This is the third multi-story house for the stage the team has designed this season. And this one, a worn and weary home in the Oklahoma plains, has individual rooms where inhabitants reveal secrets of their past — or sins of their present — or those of family members. Within the walls, the parallels to Greek tragedies come fully alive.
Patrons should note that the play contains a lot profanity and smoking. However, the thoroughly engaging cast, emotionally-charged play, and Markle’s ability to turn a sauerkraut-laden accusation into a cupcake-sweet moment of laughter is a reason not to miss “August: Osage County.”
If you go
What: “August: Osage County”
When: Matinees, evenings to June 12
Where: The Globe Theatre,1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Contact: (619) 23-GLOBE
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