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August: Osage County

Zach Theatre makes you feel right at home with Tracy Letts' epic family drama

Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., April 22, 2011

Arts Review

August: Osage County

Zach Theatre, Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside, 476-0541

www.zachtheatre.org

Through May 22

Running time: 3 hr., 30 min.

There are very few things in our lives that we don't have the power to change. Don't like your appearance? Change your wardrobe, your diet, have surgery. Tired of your job or your

lover? Go to school, break a heart, move to another country, get married – do something, anything. Even if we frequently don't change when we could or should, at least we can. At least we have that hope and that power.

Family, though – there's no changing the blood pumping in our veins. And despite the fact that family dynamics are as unique as snowflakes, we still have an idea that there's an empirically right way to raise a family. During intermissions of Zach Theatre's production of August: Osage County, I kept hearing the same reactions and phrases from the audience: "My family's bad, but not that bad." "My mother never did that."

Austin may be familiar with the work of playwright Tracy Letts from recent productions of Bug and Killer Joe, but while similar grit and dark comedy runs through this Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning script, August is on a different order of magnitude. Its setting may be contained in three weeks and one Oklahoma house, but Letts' play is truly epic.

What makes August truly epic is that it attempts to fill the whole canvas, so to speak. The crux of the tale is a family coming together over its elderly patriarch's sudden disappearance, though its coming together is more a train wreck than anything else. But August refuses to just be about motherhood or sisterhood or generation gaps, or to be always comedic or dramatic. It's all these things at different times. At times the play devolves into stilted, ugly bitching. Sometimes there's an almost Tuna-esque back and forth between characters. There are more than a few uncomfortable scenes but some very endearing scenes and also some random meta musings ... you get the idea. Like a family, August isn't perfect. Like a family, August isn't always what you want or expect. But it (definitely) doesn't shy away from the little and big moments that constitute our lives. It shows the strange, the sweet, the sick.

I know I've spent a lot of time talking about the play instead of the production, but that's because director Dave Steakley does a wonderful job working through the script and making this play packed with superlatives, meanderings, and melodrama feel quite natural. During the course of the production, there are issues concerning drug addiction, suicide, incest, adultery, and pederasty; yet at its craziest moments, this production still feels like a part of reality. Part of it is Letts' writing – extremely natural bitching and riffing that's real enough to relate to but funny enough to be captivating – but Steakley's direction of this cast really hammers it home. From leads Lauren Lane and Lana Dieterich on down, the acting is truly wonderful.

August: Osage County is wickedly funny yet still throws a black shadow on your heart. It runs headfirst into the most painful issues that face a family. Three and a half hours is a pretty darn long time for a modern production, but at the end of the performance I saw, people in the audience were still comparing themselves to the twisted family they witnessed on the stage before them. What more can a production ask for?

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