August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

Here are two things you should know I love: the theater, and Meryl Streep. Naturally, when I saw previews of the upcoming ImageStreep movie August: Osage County and found out that it’s based on a play, I decided to find the play and read it. I’m jogging my brain to remember if there are more movies based on plays that I’ve read, but all I can come up with are two plays that I want to read – Doubt and Closer. Both of these were made into critically acclaimed movies.

I love reading plays. Obviously, the slow reader in me appreciates the length. (I read August in under three hours.) But also, I love how plays do so much in so short a time, as far as story-telling through the written word is concerned. Of course, watching plays is a whole lot of fun; but reading plays lets you imagine the story the way the playwright imagined it, rather than how the director interpreted it. I like reading stage directions, and imagining how the set will be created in the production. August is intriguing in this sense too, because the set demands a three story house on the stage.

The play is about Beverly Weston, a once-famous poet, now aging and living with his pill-addict wife Violet. When Beverly goes missing, their three daughters Barbara, Ivy, and Karen return home to be by their mother’s side. Pun not intended, but drama ensues. Letts builds a varied array of characters – equal parts interesting, likable, and deplorable. Everyone has shades of gray, and their complications are far from resolved. There are a lot of meaty roles, and the play is chock-full of wonderful lines. No wonder the movie version has an admirable list of actors.

As an American family drama, Letts’s play reminded me a lot of Sam Shepard. (This is odd because the noted playwright and actor stars as Bev Weston in the movie.) There’s a sense of decadence in the family, the home, the state. There’s a feeling of love-hate for the place where you come from, a desire to get away. Relationships are strong, and yet they are coming apart at the seams. There are secrets. Dirty little secrets. And I love every minute of unraveling them.

Do something different, go read a play. Any play. Maybe this one!

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