August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
152 pages, Theatre Communications Group, February 2008
Raise your hands: how many of you knew this was a play before it was a movie?
I’m hoping for lots of hands. That would make me all kinds of happy.
I was interested in seeing this movie, and friend D. (who is my MOST theatery friend – as in, he’s a talent agent, and lives in New York City, and knows the fanciest of people, but is still the same person I met when I was 17, somehow, which I love about him) said, “Please read or watch the play first, because it’s brilliant, and the movie has issues.” When D. talks, especially about theater, I listen.
(Also, I love Tracy Letts. Friend N. and I went to see the movie version of Bug years ago, and we were blown away, and I’ve read the play since. Letts has a way with ugly. He gets beneath the skin of things and shows us what we’re afraid of seeing, or what we avert our eyes from. And I love him for that. I’d recommend you read the play of Bug, but the movie’s not a bad choice, either. Fairly faithful and independent enough that it was able to keep some of the flavor that was intended.)
On the surface, everything’s very middle-class-solid in the Weston house. (I’d love to see this onstage; the set directions make it seem so beautifully shabbily grand.) We meet Beverly, the patriarch, and Violet, his wife; Beverly’s an alcoholic poet (ah, yes, I’ve known a few of those…) and Violet’s dying of cancer and has a mean pill addiction. When Beverly disappears, their children and extended family show up to provide support for Violet, and we meet the rest of the family: Beverly and Violet’s three children, Ivy, Barbara, and Karen, and their respective spouses, fiancés, and children, as well as Violet’s sister and brother-in-law and their son.
Family reunions. Nothing like them, right? Gather around the home fires, which we’ve kept burning for you, kiddos, and we’ll tell you a story, but probably not the one you want to hear; not the one about how much we miss you, how amazing you were as a child, and how special you are to us, but the one about old wounds that have festered, old secrets kept that are just coming to light, and how when you left, you really abandoned us, and that’s never been far from our minds. It may not be a story you want to hear, but it’s a story, by God, you’ll listen to. You’re back home, and you’ll do as you’re told.
This is a brilliant play. Better have been; damn thing won a Pulitzer. I’m really curious about the movie, but will wait for DVD; the version that now lives in my head is better than any movie version that could exist (and, although I love him? Benedict Cumberbatch is not at all right for the part in which he was cast. The women were cast well, I think, but Cumberbatch as a bumbling Red-State screw-up who still lives at home and watches a lot of trash television? I’m sorry. Not with THOSE cheekbones. Man looks like a beautiful alien statue come to life. It just doesn’t work.)
(Also, for those of you that love poetry, there’s poetry in here. And some beautiful, beautiful writing. Letts is an amazing writer.)
If you see the movie, please give the play a read, too, and compare the two; not only will you be reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, you’ll have something to talk about at parties. It’ll make you seem super-intelligent. “Ah, yes, but have you read the play of August: Osage County? I don’t know that Streep made the choices Letts intended in her portrayal of Violet, although I won’t fault her acting; the woman is, as always, flawless.” Right? You’re totally going home with the hot librarian chick/fella after THAT party! And you have me to thank!