By now, you’ve heard the hype. Believe it. Yes, Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County is the best new play of this and the last few Broadway seasons. You’ve probably also heard about the intimidating 3 hour and 20-minute running time. Ignore it. August is a massive, sprawling family saga: Three sisters, two parents, an aunt, an uncle, a slow-witted cousin, a grandchild, one estranged husband, and ”an Indian who lives in [the attic]” all traipse through a towering, three-level, century-old Oklahoman home; Letts needs every minute to tell their story. But the time will fly by.
The inauspicious occasion for this fractured family reunion is the disappearance of the patriarch, famous former poet and current renowned alcoholic Beverly Weston (he’s played by the playwright’s father, Dennis Letts, a warm, no-nonsense, instantly welcoming personality). Wife Violet (Deanna Dunagan, whose teeth-baring, claws-out performance has people already talking Tony) is a drug addict — ”Valium. Vicodin. Darvon, Darvocet. Percodan, Percocet. Xanax for fun. Oxycontin in a pinch. Some Black Mollies once…. And of course Dilalud” — but, unlike her theatrical ancestors, she’ll actually admit it. (You never heard Eugene O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone call her pills her ”best f—ing friends.”) Her daughters, Barbara (Amy Morton), Karen (Mariann Mayberry), and Ivy (Sally Murphy), are all fantastically screwed up in their own ways; worst off is Barbara — her husband, Bill (Jeff Perry, a.k.a. Meredith’s drunk daddy on Grey’s Anatomy) — a fellow academic like her father, incidentally — is doing it with one of his college students; their 14-year-old daughter, Jean (Madeleine Martin), is a precocious little pothead. Throw in Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Rondi Reed), her henpecked husband Charlie (Francis Guinan), and their son Little Charles (Ian Barford), and well, when this family gathers round the dinner table, the green-bean casserole isn’t the only thing that gets smashed to bits. Secrets are cavalierly spilled, lives inalterably destroyed, people even come to blows (the aforementioned ”Indian” — Kimberly Guerrero, a.k.a. Jerry’s girlfriend from Seinfeld’s ”Cigar Store Indian” episode — clocks Steve with a frying pan). It’s all horrifyingly, deliciously mesmerizing…not to mention uncomfortably, cringingly, wonderfully funny. The pitch-perfect ensemble, under the direction of Anna D. Shapiro (who helmed last season’s terrific black comedy The Pain and the Itch), comes courtesy of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. But the real star here is Tracy Letts. The sometime actor (The Drew Carey Show) had already achieved acclaim as a playwright — his trailer-park horror comedy Killer Joe and paranoid thriller Bug (later a movie) had successful Off Broadway runs in 1998 and 2004, respectfully; his 2003 Man From Nebraska was a Pulitzer finalist — but August will cement his place in theatrical history. He has written a Great American Play. How many of those will we get the chance to discover in our lifetime? A
(Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com)