Archive Review: August: Osage County

From December 2007:

Tracy Letts has successfully tapped into the rich mainline tradition of American dysfunctional melodrama in August: Osage County. And I’m not using the term “melodrama” as an insult; while Letts clearly has been influenced by such great American tragedies as O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and Williams’s Cat On A Hot Roof he largely avoids the almost habitual tragic fatalism that is those plays’ weakest point.

Life, Letts lets on, is much messier and unresolved than any pat tragic pessimism would allow for. In August, with a great affinity for the language of America’s “Great Plains” and occasional dazzling comic zingers, Letts paints a vibrant picture of an Oklahoma family violently imploding when their patriarch disappears.

This play is in many ways thoroughly traditional, but it does just as thorough a job of reexamining those traditions from a distinctly contemporary point of view. It’s undeniably an “important” play that, nonetheless, could still use some hefty cuts to its three-hour-plus length.

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