August:  Osage County

Critics have made much about the Weston Family as dysfunctional.  But if having a bunch of relatives snipe at each other and having an odd uncle leer over a pubescent girl and having first cousins fall in love is dysfunctional, then welcome to this reviewer’s family reunion.  Besides, how interesting are functional families?

Turns out the lovers are actually more closely related, shades of Oedipus, but as masterful playwright Tracy Letts, by eliminating the possibility of reproduction posits, what’s the difference? He craftily isolates genetics from morality–the point is clearly made that Ivy has had a hysterectomy–and forces us to wonder why related lovers should not hook up.

And therein is the tale.  The characters various moralities and casual biases are examined through continuing judgments of each other, and blames for each other.  Everything that goes wrong is someone’s fault.  There is no forgiveness among the family members.  It is the outsiders who most display equanimity in the face of internecine causality and conflict.

The sheriff seems sane as does Bill, sister Barbara’s estranged husband, who  comes to the impromptu family gathering to support Barbara after grief befalls it.  Johnna, the Cherokee house-everything, allows the family to dysfunction without having to tend to cooking, housekeeping or keeping an eye on barely nubile granddaughter Jean.

In the end, Johnna is all that is left in house to  comfort momma Violet who may well have followed husband, Beverly, to an unkind fate left to her own.  It is clear, however, that without Johnna at least one of the daughters–probably Barbara–would have stayed behind and sealed her own wretched fate.  It is Johnna who allows her another shot at happiness with divorced one-time prom date, Sheriff Gilbeau. 

Nicely acted all round.  If I had to pick two players who stand out from the rest, they would be Deanna Dunagan as matriarch Violet and Amy Morton as eldest daughter Barbara Fordham.

A general theatre note, I here pronounce the standing ovation dead.  Once reserved for extraordinary performances, it is now as standard as the proscenium arch, ladies room lines and the clouds of cigarette smoke outside every door during intermission.  I wonder what women who have to smoke AND go, do.  There doesn’t seem time for both.