I’m hopelessly aware that I’m watching a play each time I sit down in the audience. The risk of me forgetting that there are actors on stage is barely visible on the scale of probability. This is especially true when I know or have seen actors before. Watching August: Osage County at City Lights last Thursday certainly got me closer to the other side of that 4th wall than I’d been in a very long time.
I had a pretty charmed upbringing, relatively drama-free. I played for hours, barefoot in the streets with the neighborhood kids unsupervised. I grew up in a household with pets, parents that loved each other, and siblings that taught me to share and not to bite. I was sheltered from the bad things for the most parts and allowed to be a kid a lot longer than most. I thought this might make my experience with August: Osage County a bit too far-fetched and fictional to take seriously. Leave it to Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts, City Lights and the talented actors of this production to drive home the concept that no matter how charmed and “normal” you think your life is, you can still relate to crazy. You’re never that far from dysfunction. And, although your memory may be selective, your light comedy of an existence is less than six degrees separated from dark.
I gotta give a shout out to the sound, set, lighting and prop design on this show for setting a mood that is impeccable. I swear the temperature raised 20 degrees with the combined efforts of the technical geniuses at the helm. From the moment I walked in I was in the correct mindset to embrace and understand this world. The music was rustic, raw, and slightly askew. The set layered, deep, masterfully cluttered and abandoned simultaneously. The lighting sweltered, glowed, and masked the hidden secrets. The props were authentic, committed (no fake cigarettes here) and familiar to the cast. Technically this show was a 5, and the use of the stage was logical and metaphorical too. Except for one brief moment where I got a bit confused, its complexity was totally consistent. I’m sure the director didn’t hire dust particles and a gnat to fly about, but it certainly helped push me one step closer to forgetting this was a play. Was I peering through the cracks in this family’s deteriorating facade?
On the whole I thought the acting was tight and compelling. They were well matched for the juicy and emotionally demanding script to be sure. There were, however, several moments where I thought a few of the actors came out of left field with a less realistic approach. Even just a line or two, played for the joke instead of the truth, jolted me back to play-watching mode. They say you’re as strong as your weakest link and unfortunately that applied here. For all the astounding performances, all it takes is one slightly less astounding performance to lower the bar. In fairness I couldn’t tell if it was an acting choice, directing choice, or just one of those thing that came out wrong. Regardless, it bothered me.
Two short intermissions break this long play up in much-needed places without ruining any of the momentum. Though it doesn’t feel long, stretch your legs and grab a drink during both intermissions, the sections are all about equal or certainly feel as if they are the same length and you don’t want to risk any distractions in the 3rd section particularly. My recommendation would be to go on a weekend or at least approach this play with a well rested fresh mind as clarity and focus will certainly help you to digest it properly.
I’m giving this production a solid 4 out of 5 jewels in the tiara. August: Osage County plays through October 23rd at City Lights Theatre Company in San Jose.