August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

You don’t go to Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago looking for comedy, romance or musicals.  You go to find intense theater, radiating dysfunctional families, friends and strangers in conflict.  DBH and I call it “scream theater” because there was hardly a Steppenwolf production where the cast did not end up screaming, hitting, shooting and shouting.  And we loved them all.

My history with Steppenwolf goes back to 1982 when I moved solo to downtown Chicago and could walk to the ensemble’s home at Hull House on Broadway.  I saw just about every production, climaxed by Laurie Metcalf’s stellar performance in Balm in Gilead in 1982.  In Balm, written by Lanford Wilson, I imagine that the script is a symphonic score.  Twelve denizens of a shabby café (think Broadway and Lawrence in Chicago) all in dialogue at once – some talking to others, others talking to themselves.  Out of this cacophony, a spotlight moves from table to table, and the lighted characters speak crescendo and the rest of the diners speak decrescendo.  Then the spotlight finds Darlene (Laurie Metcalf) and for the next 15 minutes she speaks to the audience, wins and breaks their hearts.  You can see a few minutes of this in a tribute to Lanford Wilson where Laurie Metcalf reads part of this soliloquy. 

Why is this important to August: Osage County?  Because there is so much theatrical history and baggage behind this play, written by Tracy Letts, a Steppenwolf Ensemble Member since 2002, and first performed at Steppenwolf in 2007.  August: Osage County tears the guts out of 13 characters who figure in a family trauma featuring a meanest of mean mommas manipulating her family following the suicide of the husband/father.  We loved it!  Scream theater at its best.  Steppenwolf comes to Tucson.  And under the stewardship of Winding Road Theater Company, who produce plays by living American playwrights.  It’s our first time at a Winding Road production – and we will be returning.  They stage the plays at Beowulf Alley Theater – so intimate with its 65 seats. 

 Toni Press-Coffman as Violet

Toni Press-Coffman as Violet

No theater company could attempt August: Osage County without strong actors.  The scenes are dialogue and tension laden.  One even harks back to Balm in Gilead when the actors grouped into four separate areas on the stage, all engaged in simultaneous conversations for a minute and then one scenario erupts bringing the action into its milieu.  The role of Violet the Mother is vicious, funny, awesome in its intensity.  Toni Press-Cauffman, a WRTC founder, lives the role.  Violet’s daughter, Barbara, requires an equally strong actress and Maria Caprille is up for it in both talent and physical presence.  Evidently the Weinstein brothers are making a film, with Letts writing the screenplay.  Meryl Streep will be Violet and Julia Roberts, Barbara. 

August: Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and picked up 5 Tonys for its Broadway production in 2008.  WRTC’s production is the first in Arizona, and a significant coup for such a small ensemble to successfully stage such a big play. 

For a more in-depth review of this production from the Tucson Weekly, click here

© 2013