Four grudges and a funeral

Here’s my review of August: Osage County, now playing at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater. This previously ran in The Sun.

The family funeral dinner is a knife fight without the knives.

“Life…” Beverly Weston muses between interminable sips of whiskey, ‘…is long.”

The opening line of “August: Osage County,” now playing at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater, is credited to T.S. Eliot by Weston, our pedantic professor of poetry.

Ironically, Eliot’s admonition is also a disclaimer. This because Tracy Lett’s dark comedy about a dysfunctional Oklahoma family in full meltdown is, like life itself…quite long.

Any performance that requires not one but two intermissions merits a disclaimer. The ART asks its audience for a three-hour plus time commitment (the critically acclaimed film version ran just 120 minutes).

Still, this “August” is not a waste of precious time. Far from it. The second act’s family funeral scene alone – basically a knife fight without knives – is worth the price of admission.

But neither is “August” a casual evening’s entertainment. This story of addiction, abuse, nervous breakdowns and long-buried resentments suddenly reaching critical mass demands of the audience the same commitment of time and, yes, patience, that the actors shoulder.

The three
Weston sisters never had a chance.

Listen, war has famously been described as intervals of tedium interrupted by moments of terror. This Weston family is in full war mode following the disappearance of patriarch Beverly. And family dynasties do not disintegrate in double time.

With a full baker’s dozen making up the cast, there is a lot happening on stage. And like family life itself, conversations frequently dissolve into a cacophony of voices all competing for attention.

And from that chaos emerges a handful of compelling performances.

Start with Shamrock McShane’s Beverly. Who else could, with such aplomb, take what amounts to a cameo role and turn it into a Hamlet-worthy soliloquy?

“My wife takes pills and I drink,” Beverly says, setting the stage for all that ensues. “That’s the bargain we’ve struck.”

But if Beverly is Hamlet, wife Violet – a very brittle Patricia Carrico – is Lady Macbeth, and she will not be upstaged. Who else would fondly eulogize her dearly departed by bragging “the man was a first class alcoholic for 50 years.”

The torch is passed to daughter Barbara…who proceeds to launch a scorched earth campaign.

Given their wretched parentage, the three Weston sisters never had a chance.

Anna Marie Kirkpatrick’s Ivy – the one who stayed home – is so beaten down by mom’s denigration that she conspires with a forbidden lover to carry her away from it all. “You dress like a lesbian,” Violet berates Ivy, who stares at the floor in submission.

Then there’s self-absorbed Karen (and yes she is a Karen) whose chosen method of escape is into the arms of unsuitable men. “We’re going to Belize for our honeymoon,” she says of her latest flame (played with despicable relish by Justin Clement). “I never even told him about my Belize fantasy.”

But if there is a shining star in the black hole that is “August” it is without dispute Jenny Rebecca Hill’s Barbara. She posses both her father’s gift for literary combat (“Forsook you and the horse you rode in on!”) and her mother’s take no prisoners acidity.

Suffice it to say that when the family torch is passed, Barbara promptly launches a scorched earth campaign.

“This makes me long for a heart-warming claw hammer story,” Barbara wistfully sighs in the heat of battle.

One other performance to savor is Christina Palacio’s aunt Mattie Fae. I’ll just say she’s the worst person in the room, which is saying a lot.

A match made in Heaven? Or a mismatch from Hell?

Family life in the heat of an Osage County August is definitely not for the faint-of-heart. And the heat in the Weston household is, literally, enough to roast tropical birds.

“Thank God we can’t tell the future,” Barbara muses. “We’d never get out of bed.”

“August: Osage County,” is playing through May 29. For show times and ticket prices see the ART’s web page.

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