Monday, September 21, 2009

September: Awe -- August: Osage County

Yipes, I'm still reeling from the psychological onslaught that was August: Osage County. At the Ahmanson, we had prepared ourselves for a 3-1/2 hour night. (Two intermissions? Was this Wagner?) I assure you, it flies by quickly. I really enjoyed myself, but as with any good dramas, was left to ponder and wonder about life.

I winced here and there at some of the language, as I wondered if some of the audience would prove unable to tolerate such saltiness. But the play takes place in rural Oklahoma. Real people can be puritanical and polite, and they can be vituperative and nasty. In this play, you get Jerry Springer redux.

When it comes to wincing, however, the language pales in comparison to the melodramatic, soap opera stunts in the plotline. These people do it all. We see dish-throwing, yes, but that's the fun part. We cover death, alcohol, sexual traumas, adultery, sibling rivalry, racism, mental impairment, battery, drugs, and Florida.

In many ways, the play is quite tough on women. Except for the housekeeper, all the women in this play have character flaws that create and sustain their misery. Yes, their weaknesses drive the play on all cyclinders, but one can't help but wonder why the women are held to such a miserable place in life.

Of course, Estelle Parson steals every stinking scene she's in. Everyone makes a fuss about her running about and down the stairs, and yes, 82 year olds don't usually do that. But I was amazed by her verbal agility. She was so in control of her character!

The eldest daughter was, to me, the most interesting character. She was strong but weak, in love but hateful. How conflicted she, as an everywoman, seemed!

The father and son character seemed genuinely open and caring. They wore their weaknesses on their sleeves and stood strongly against attacks from others. The other two male characters were weak, yes, but they seemed able to attribute their problems to the influence of drugs and alcohol. The women were left with nothing to blame but themselves.

The housekeeper was a fascinating character. She comes off slow and simple. She is here because she has no choice: she needs the money. But surprisingly, given the antics of the
families, she's the hare to the rabbits around her. She's attentive, caring and is the base of stability, with a wonderful heroic turn towards the end. She said all of 50 words all night, but the play would have been unbearable without her.

I admit that I thought that the soap opera elements would be most irritating. They were manipulative, yes, but unlike daytime dramas, the gimmicks aren't there to move the story along. They're in this play to give us an opportunity to peer into the minds and characters. It's the slowly exposing personalities that move the story along here.

And that's what makes this play so interesting. For all the yelling, cursing, blaspheming and insolence, the quiet pain and secret motivations are what speak most loudly to the viewer. The shock value of the profane is obvious, but that final, eerie scene at the top of the house - that was the most stunning and lasting image of all.

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