Rarely does any show measure up to the advance hype and across-the-board glowing reviews (not to mention the 5 Tonys and a Pulitzer) that preceded the arrival of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, now playing at the Curran Theater. I expected it to be good, but it's terrific. Any one who appreciates theater should make sure they see this before the run ends on September 6th.
NB: the next two paragraphs below contains what some may consider "spoilers."
The play pretty much had me at the beginning, when an older man is seated before a mute younger woman explaining during a long, mesmerizing monologue that "My wife take pills- and I drink. That's the bargain we've struck." Then this patriarch, Beverly Weston, disappears for the remainder of the play as the rest of his family shows up at his Oklahoma home to figure out what happened to him, and to themselves. What follows is three-and-a-half hours of shockingly funny American family dysfunction that flies by so quickly it's hard to believe you've spent an entire evening in the company of possibly the nastiest, most brutal and foul-mouthed family to ever occupy a stage- and I loved every moment of it.
There are thirteen roles in the play. Each one is memorably performed by an excellent cast, led by Estelle Parsons in an unforgettable performance as the hilariously cruel, pill-popping grandmother whose deeply disturbed brood has come home one final time. Letts has accomplished something truly remarkable in giving each of these characters a distinct identity. By the end of the play we know these people well enough to wish we didn't, but each character contains enough of a sympathetic arc written into their self-delusion and self-destruction that never permits the audience to turn against any of them, despite the incest, pedophilia, alcoholism, drug-addiction and every thing else taking place onstage. When the eldest daughter Barbara, played by Shannon Cochran, roars at the end of the second act "Because I'm running things now!" it's a moment of pure theatrical exhilaration that I've only witnessed twice before in a theater, but never in a comedy.
As an added bonus, during the first act we overheard the man seated in front us say to his date "Oh my god, that's my mother," which was one of the funniest comments I've ever heard in an audience, though it genuinely made me feel bad for him. The three-story set is terrific, though there are speakers placed on the side of the stage that partially block the view from the seats on the extreme aisles of the orchestra, so avoid them if you can.
Don't miss this play, and see it soon because I wasn't the only one exiting the theater who said to their companion "I'd really like to see that again."