Every single one of my London theatre buddies went to see the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s multi-award winning August: Osage County at the National Theatre, so I was excited to discover that I wouldn’t miss out after all as it was included in the 2009 repertory of the Melbourne Theatre Company.
Tracy Lett’s darkly funny story has been called ‘a Great American Play’ in the vein of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. It certainly doesn’t hide from confrontational issues, including suicide, drug addiction, infidelity, paedophilia and child abuse. The multi-generational sprawl of storylines is heightened by the impressive three-level set, a cross-section of what you’d imagine to be a typical American family home. For over three hours, the members of the dysfunctional Weston family climb, stumble, destroy and storm out of the house as they live out their petty dramas, screaming confrontations, tender moments and the gradual unveiling of family skeletons.
The cast are uniformly excellent and create memorable characters. Robin Nevin is incredible as the stumbling, drug-addled matriach Violet, who has basically given up on keeping any semblance of holding it together. Her riveting stage presence is impressivly supported by Jane Menelaus as one of the Violet’s daughters, Barbara, who looks like she will fall into her mother’s path of savagery and drug dependance. The only false note is the oddly superfluous character of Johnna, the Native American hired help who goes about her housekeeping with a distant serenity – perhaps she is supposed to represent the calm eye in the familial storm.
August: Osage County is a dramatic and biting play which makes for an exciting night of theatre – go and see it.