August: Osage County
A literal hothouse drama. It’s August in Oklahoma, and Mama’s a cold-blooded pill-popper who keeps the house at temperatures almost as elevated as the sense of foreboding Daddy establishes with the play’s opening line: “’Life is very long.’ – T.S. Eliot.” Oh is it now? Because, of course, that’s from “The Hollow Men,” the one that ends, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” For his part, Daddy drinks; it’s how he deals with “the plains” — his Middle America version of the Southern blues. Speaking of that storied region: Tracy Letts’ demolition derby of a play feels like an update of Tennessee Williams. The setup: take a few generations of family, stick ‘em in the same house under stressful circumstances, and watch the pressure cooker do its work. The update: dial back the religious and sexual repression, keep the secrets and over-the-top cruelty, and oh yes, add modern, weapons-grade painkillers and a whole bunch of profanity. (You will very likely laugh at the line, “Eat the fish, bitch!” in part because you are desperate for relief from the slow-mounting dread. There’s a lot of that sort of thing, because even — especially? — unhappy families can be funny to behold.) The upshot: see if anyone’s left standing by the end. Somewhere along the way, someone says that dissipation is far worse than cataclysm — well then, thank you, Mr. Eliot. Backyard Renaissance has pulled together a heavy-hitting cast and sent it spinning about Tony Cucuzzella’s surprisingly capacious set — though not nearly capacious enough to keep folks from colliding in all sorts of ways. The set size makes sense: it’s a big show in every way, including emotionally — the kind that aims to leave you so wrung out that the eventual applause, while deserved, feels somehow out of place. And in this, it succeeds.
Ongoing until Sunday, September 3, 2023