Opinion, Reviews

‘August: Osage County’: A great production of a troubling story

“August: Osage County” was the theatre department’s latest production and it was an ambitious one. Written by Tracy Letts, the play takes place in Oklahoma in 2007 when it was written, and is a drama/comedy following the dysfunctional Weston family. After the father goes missing, the Weston family gather to deal with the situation, but as secrets are revealed, the family gathering takes a turn for the worst.

The production was fantastic. It is an ambitious adaptation, considering the complexity of the set, quality of the cast required and the subject matter itself. The acting was great, regardless of the role. The set built for the play was a serious undertaking, practically becoming a full building for the production. The makeup was good considering how the production had to overcome some potential problems with the age of the characters. And the choreography was impressive. There are sequences where 10 to 12 people are on stage, sometimes all talking at once, and yet you know where everyone is and what they’re saying. It’s almost like a movie with an ensemble cast, only during these scenes there’s no cutting back and forth between the characters. You watch it play out at the same time.

The drawback of the play is something that the cast or crew couldn’t control and that would be the play itself. Despite having some great moments, the plot and the pacing create a flawed story.

The first two acts of “Osage County” feel balanced, but certain aspects of the final act ruin it. To fully explain why, first, one has to consider the tone of the play. It is a dramedy: part drama, part comedy. You might laugh and you might cry. And the play achieves that. There are some funny moments and then there are moments that get you choked up. There were scenes where I had to look away because I couldn’t handle the family drama. It felt too real.

But the final act didn’t work with the rest of the play. The first two acts were balanced in the sense that they established the tone for the rest of the play. There is more drama than comedy, but that’s not meant as a criticism. It felt natural for the tone that the play was going for. In one instance a family member might say something serious and hurtful to another, and a few moments later a different family member cracks a funny joke and everyone laughs, just like in a real family. And the third act didn’t match that. There is a big shift in tone in the third act. Despite this shift being intentional, purposely changing the story, it doesn’t work. Everything seems to just go wrong in every possible way. There’s barely any comedy and the main character has an emotional arc that didn’t feel natural. There are some satisfying moments in the third act, like the ending, but it mainly didn’t work.

“August: Osage County” is not a bad play. It is worth seeing. If you haven’t already and you have an opportunity to go out and see it, you should. At least to give it a try.

Again, this is meant to be a critique of the story, the little book you memorize your lines from, and not the production itself. The theatre production of the play was fantastic. It’s a shame I felt the play itself was flawed because it somewhat distracted me from fully appreciating all the hard work and talent that went into this production. Excluding the story, “August: Osage County” is one of the best theatrical productions I’ve seen performed on campus.

There are some great moments in the play — sequences where the Weston family felt like real people and a real family, and the actors did bring that to life. The play itself is a really good story, it just has flaws that prevent it from becoming something even better, something great overall. But if these flaws don’t sound too concerning, meaning you personally could still watch it and might deeply appreciate it, then definitely give “August: Osage County” a try.

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