There are plays, and then there are plays.August: Osage County, showing at Circa Theatre until May 7, is one of the latter. Having wowed audiences from London to Broadway, Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winning play has finally been given its eagerly anticipated Wellington incarnation.
Set in the oppressive heat of late Oklahoma summer, the play details the story of the Westons, an average family at its most extraordinarily dysfunctional. When the brooding, alcoholic patriarch Beverley (Ray Henwood) mysteriously disappears, the entire family converges under one equally stifling roof. As the details of Beverley’s disappearance unfold, a series of long-held secrets emerge from the woodwork. Thus the floodgates are opened for ensuing truth-torrent and the family’s disturbing realities are revealed through incredible acting and impeccably convincing ensemble work.
Jennifer Ludlam-spectacularly reprising the role that won her great critical acclaim in Auckland-plays Beverley’s wife, Violet. Rendered semi-coherent by her addiction to prescription drugs, the volatile matriarch is brutally truthful and hideously manipulative, yet possesses just enough vulnerability to make her human. While Michelle Amas as the strong-willed eldest daughter, Barbara, and Victoria University’s own Lauren Gibson as the pot-smoking teenage grand-child were personal favourites, there is not a single weak role in the thirteen-strong cast. Particularly intriguing is the character of Johnna Monevata (Anya Tate-Manning) a Native American housekeeper who acts as an enigmatic observer and pillar of stability amongst the unfolding chaos.
What is most incredible about August: Osage County however, is that the work explores seemingly universal elements of family dynamics in the most sensationally fucked-up of situations. Letts’ script is simultaneously thought-provoking and hilarious and utterly unafraid of questioning some of our most purportedly fundamental values.
Whether you are a regular theatre-goer or not, you are doing yourself an injustice if you don’t see August: Osage County. Admittedly the play is three and a half hours long, including intervals. But don’t let that discourage you. By the first interval I was intrigued, by the second interval engrossed and at the end, during the standing ovation, simply wanted to see it all over again.