Tuesday, April 12, 2011

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, Zach Theatre, March 31 - May 22

August Osage County Zach Theatre

Director Dave Steakley proves that with a first-rate cast and a gifted scenic designer he can turn Tracey Letts' savage misanthropy into a mesmerizing long evening in the theatre.

That's no modest achievement. The last -- and first -- Letts work I saw was Capital T Theatre's Killer Joe, which I found violent and obscene. Not in the sexual sense, but because of Letts gloated while degrading his working-class characters. Perhaps Letts is easier to stomach in the modestly affluent middle-class home of the Westons than in the trailer park setting of Killer Joe.

Michael Holmes, Lana Dieterich, Kendra Perez (image: Kirk R. Tuck)

Things fall apart in both places. Or, abjuring Yeats since in the opening scene Letts has the patriarch, retired literature professor Beverly Weston, ramble to the uncomprehending new housekeeper about T.S. Eliot, each play is set in a wasteland populated with hollow men. And while we're dealing with symbolism, let's get the housekeeper out of the way. Johnna Monevata is a simple, good-hearted full-blooded Indian -- a native American -- so we can see her as the authentic antithesis to the drug- and alcohol-soaked psycho Weston family that symbolizes the contemporary Anglo heartland.

You won't see Michael Holmes again until the curtain call, for patriarch Beverly Weston disappears, causing confusion and alarm. After he has been missing for four days, plain-Jane stay-at-home sister Ivy (Irene White) calls her two sisters as well as Aunt Mattie Fae and Uncle Charlie. All converge on the expansive, bourgeois triple-level set crafted by Zach's Michael Raiford, complete with a mechanical chair on a track by the staircase, allowing tottering mom Violet to get downstairs. The Zach jocularly calls it "one bitch of a family reunion." I call it a gripping extended battle, a sort of lengthy, determined knife fight, in which drug-dazed Violet (Lana Dieterich) and her embittered sister Mattie Fae (Janelle Buchanan) are the chief protagonists.

Click to read more at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .

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