“‘Life is very long.’ That’s TS Eliot,” quotes Beverly Weston, patriarch of the Weston family, in the opening lines of August: Osage County. Admittedly, the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play is also very long, clocking in at 3 1/2 hours with two intermissions – though you’d never know it aside from a slightly sore neck and a growling stomach (note: Eat dinner before). Osage County lives up to the hype, flying through those three+ hours with hilarious, biting dialogue, vibrant acting and a series of highs and lows that will have you laughing one minute and cringing the next.
The story follows Beverly and Violet Weston (played by Jon DeVries and an outstanding Estelle Parsons), a couple whose children long ago flew the coop, leaving them behind in their cavernous three-story farmhouse in Oklahoma. They have a serious case of “the Plains,” a Midwest malaise where “my wife takes pills and I drink – that’s the bargain we struck,” says Beverly. But when Beverly goes missing, the three Weston girls – with an estranged husband, pot-smoking teenage daughter and pedophilic fiancé in tow – descend on the childhood home to help Mom. A disastrous family reunion ensues.
Thanks to the impressive set, you feel like you’re looking in on a dollhouse writ large, though the dolls within are more screwed up than your average Barbie. At the center of the dramedy is Parsons, who, at 81, commands the stage with the vigor of someone half her age, regularly barreling up and down two flights of stairs (“in heels!” my friend whispered, eyes wide). The role is written for someone 16 years younger, but casting made a brilliant decision with Parsons. She shifts fluidly from a pill-popping, slurring, cursing, teetering matriarch seemingly at wit’s end, to a lucid ruler of the hen house who slings taunts like beads in a Mardi Gras parade, justifying each with a casual “I’m just truth-telling.” The worst insults are daggers, prompting both the cast and the audience to gasp and shrink in their seats (no fewer than three times, by my count).
When not cowering behind their programs, the audience – predominantly a white-haired group – was eating it up, belly-laughing at lines like “The situation is fraught” and all the absurd situations that befall the Westons. Consider this: Drug abuse, infidelity, and suicide take up just the tip of the dysfunction pyramid. When you think it can’t get worse, it does.
“It reminds me of my family,” one audience member commented after the first act, quickly following with: “though we’re not as screwed up.”
Special mention goes to Shannon Cochran, whose turn as eldest daughter Barbara – an apple that doesn’t fall too far from mom’s tree – is impassioned and impressive. Laurence Lau, playing fiancé Steve, delivers the best character-actor performance of the night as a creep worthy of To Catch a Predator.
Aside from audio problems that rendered a few minutes of dialogue unintelligible, the show opened in Seattle with a standing ovation and is worth catching before it leaves town on Sunday (Nov.1).
Running late? Grab a meal by the Paramount.