August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, gave me some mixed feelings. Upon beginning the play, I found myself internally rolling my eyes often, feeling like it was an overly dramatic, disillusioned look at rural/suburban life in the 21st century. However, once I finished the play, I felt a bit of a change of heart. This isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read, but my early skepticism about the play was somewhat incorrect, for which I am thankful.
The story centers on the Weston family of Osage county, Oklahoma. The Westons are a rather messed up bunch, which is probably a pretty major understatement. It almost seems like Letts Goggled a list of “bad things” that can happen to a family (i.e. suicide, depression, drug addiction, incest, child abuse, adultery, molestation, etc.) and started checking them off one-by-one as the play progresses. (Yes, all those things come up during this play. Not exactly a happy story.)
But like I said, I was happier with it than I expected to be. My go-to reference for unnecessarily dark depictions of family drama is the film Little Children, which I absolutely loathed. It features actors I really love (Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson) but in a story that’s so completely dark it’s also utterly unbelievable. Is “normal” suburban life really so horrible that there’s no hope left for people living in it? That’s how Little Children felt to me, and that was my concern for August: Osage County, but I think Letts masters his story so that, even with all these terrible situations, it’s still a worthy read. My biggest issue with the play came in the character of Jean, a fourteen-year-old who comes off completely unrealistically. She’s way too informed and “cool” for her age, but I can kind of forgive this since I imagine Letts can’t relate to teenage girls very easily.
The film adaptation of August is released next month with a hugely star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, and Abigail Breslin. I’m really interested to see how the story plays out on film, and how different that might be from the stage depiction. Not having seen either, I’m open to interpretation. This work may play better that in reads; I read most scenes as if the characters were constantly screaming at each other, but I’m happy that the movie trailer shows this isn’t the case for the screen adaptation.
Not my favorite play ever, but worth a read. It’s easy to see why Letts won such a prestigious award for his work, and I imagine this piece will continue to hold significance in the canon of modern drama.