August: Osage County- Steppenwolf Theatre Company

by Lucy Allen

Estelle Parsons & Shannon Cochran in August: Osage County


There is a wealth of material available when it comes to shows about family dysfunction, and I’ve seen many through my life.  Wandering into the Canon Theatre tonight, my ever sceptic brain wondered whether  August: Osage County would live up to the hype that its Tony and Pulitzer Prize awards had given it.  The answer is yes, yes it does.

The play is about the Weston family, most notably the matriarch pill popper Violet (Estelle Parsons) and her failing relationship with her daughters.  The story branches off in several directions, but mostly focuses on the disappearance of the family patriarch Beverly (Jon DeVries), who is only seen at the beginning of the show but whose presence, or rather absense, is felt throughout.

The story is a common one and one we’ve all heard or experienced at some point, but it is simply the bare bones of the play and writer Tracy Letts uses this as a device to delve deep into the characters that are a part of it.  No character is universally likable, save perhaps for the quiet housemaid Johnna (Delanna Studi), but no character is the epitome of evil either.  Letts lures the audience in with a humourous first act, then progressively gets darker as the narrative takes unexpected turns and the characters make disturbing discoveries about themselves.

What both I and my show partner Dan loved was the use of the massive set.  The house was always full of activity, and even though a scene might be occurring in the living room, you could still see someone in the kitchen preparing a meal, or another group of people would be playing cards in the next room.  This is something I’m always a fan of, and Dan in particular said he liked it because he could easily choose to focus his attention elsewhere and it was like watching another show.

Estelle Parsons as Violet is the main draw for the show, and with good reason.  She gives an extremely intense and complex performance, switching between amusing drug addled ramblings and a powerful but lonely matriarch.  By the time the last scene came around, I couldn’t hear any coughing or shuffling of papers from my fellow audience members as they sat rapt with awe.

The supporting cast, of course, were just as talented.  Jon DeVries as Beverly Weston had the unenviable task of not only establishing the world of the play but of establishing a complex and memorable character before he disappears for the remainder of the show, and he ended up being one of my favourite performances.  Shannon Cochran as the eldest daughter Barbara was the other stand out, giving a strong and emotionally charged performance.

I was worried at first when I was told that the show had a three hour running time.  Believe me when I say that those hours flew by.  Whatever your reasons are to go and see August: Osage County, whether its for the multiple hilarious moments (the dinner scene especially had most of the audience doubled over) or for the dramatic turns the story takes, go see it as soon as possible.  Its well worth the ticket price. This has a short run, so I’d hurry and get your tickets now!

August: Osage County is playing at the Canon Theatre until November 15th.
-Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7pm, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 1pm
-Ticket prices range from $30-$89, with rush tickets available for $25 two hours before the show.
-Tickets are available online, or by calling 416-872-1212 (toll-free 1-800-461-3333)

Photo of Estelle Parsons & Shannon Cochran by Robert J. Saferstein