Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More Than One Critic Letts August Esteem Show

More Than One Critic Letts August Esteem Show

Last evening, the Broadway show I've been anticipating more than any other this season opened to -- surprise! -- critical acclaim.

Tracy Letts' August: Osage County marks the first time in six years that Chicago's esteemed Steppenwolf Theatre has been represented on the Great White Way -- the last time was with 2001's Tony Award-winning Best Revival of Play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest starring Steppenwolf co-founder Gary Sinise.

To be frank, I always thought his co-star Amy Morton was robbed of a Tony nod that year as the dreaded Nurse Ratched. But now that she's back in Broadway's Imperial Theatre with a vengeance as one of August: Osage County's dysfunctional daughters, could it be that this fine American character actress will finally get her due? She and co-star Deanna Dunagan certainly seem hands-down candidates given the rhapsodic reviews from New York's feisty critics.

Heralding this as "flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years," The New York Times' Charles Isherwood (HELLO NY TIMES, WHERE IS BEN BRANTLEY?!) lavishes praise: "Fiercely funny and bitingly sad, this turbo-charged tragicomedy — which spans three acts and more than three blissful hours -- doesn’t just jump-start the fall theater season, recently stalled when the stagehands went on strike. August throws it instantaneously into high gear....Mr. Letts infuses his dark drama with potent energies derived from two more populist forms of American entertainment....Ms. Dunagan is simply magnificent in this fabulously meaty role. Such is the mesmerizing power of her performance that as Violet’s snake eyes scan the horizon for a fresh victim, claw-hand dragging a Winston to her grimly set mouth, you may actually find yourself sinking in your seat, irrationally praying that she doesn’t pick on you. (I was cowering myself.)"

In yesterday's review for The Farnworth Invention, Variety's David Rooney already provided a harbinger of things to come when he lamented about that show's audiences, "They just won't necessarily be the sophisticated audiences seeing Broadway plays on the same block, like...August: Osage County." Today, Rooney expounds with an ecastatic review: "[D]espite being known for the gory thrills and paranoiac chills of punchy little plays like Killer Joe and Bug, Letts has pulled off this bold undertaking with structural panache, propulsive dramatic momentum and acid-drenched wit that never lets up....Director Anna D. Shapiro skillfully draws on the deep-grooved associations of a tight-knit company to add texture and collective history to the large gallery of characters....Under Shapiro's firm-handed direction, this is flawless ensemble playing."

Calling the show an "astonishing creation," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara keeps the bouquets coming: "Deanna Dunagan transforms the woman into a harridan of the first order. It's a mesmerizing portrait of a person who knows how to hurt those closest to her and is willing to do so....Morton, in particular, delivers an amazing portrait of a woman whose own marriage has fallen apart....What's extraordinary about Letts' creation of these women is that you can see the mother in each of her daughters -- but he doesn't stint the other characters either."

Adding to the huzzahs by noting its "peerless cast and crew from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, (and it) is a very, very good play," Eric Grode of The New York Sun who concludes: "[S]uch reflection also unearths line after line of intensely satisfying comedy, interspersed with remarkable evocations on the cruelties and (occasional) kindnesses of family life. It also yields the near-miraculous performances by Ms. Dunagan and Ms. Morton, who offer an emotional one-two punch unlikely to be bested anytime soon. In almost any other play, their work as a mother and daughter who are more alike than either cares to admit would stand out all the more. Surrounded by the overarching excellence of August: Osage County, they're just two cantankerous cogs in a welloiled yet gloriously squeaky machine."

Proclaiming August as a "note perfect production," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News also cheers: "Letts' perspective is bracingly fresh. He lets fly so many original and diabolically funny ideas about fear, yearning and relationships that he reinvigorates the family drama and brings it up to date. While he's at it, you're laughing hysterically one minute and appalled the next as the 3 1/2 -hour play flies by. Whether you're from a loving family, a broken one or somewhere in between, you'll recognize every character, each one groping for some sort of happiness....Amy Morton proves unforgettable....Anna D. Shapiro's direction is masterful."

Lauding Letts' work as a "sneakily towering achievement," Rob Kendt's review in Newsday is headlined "Season's first must-see": "He's crafted a grand, multigenerational, train wreck that's practically Greek in its scale and its pitch-black emotional color, yet he's given it all the irresistible zing of domestic comedy - albeit of a particularly rueful hue....Letts shows a similar mastery with all his introductions, in a play crammed with characters. But he also deepens and complicates them as much with novelistic nuances as with a series of nasty shocks that keep our attention, and keep the play within shouting distance of melodrama. Given those histrionic heights, it's a joy to report that these steeped-in-Steppenwolf Theatre actors, under Anna D. Shapiro's flawless direction, are the sort of cool customers who won't be caught acting, let alone overdoing it."

Also applauding the show as "enormously entertaining," Clive Barnes of New York Post offers three stars: "The immaculate staging is by Anna D. Shapiro, and the ensemble acting by the whole cast (most of whom, like Shapiro and Letts, are members of the Steppenwolf Theater Company) is simply beautiful. August: Osage County would be worth seeing for the acting and staging alone. Luckily, Letts' cheerfully scabrous play doesn't make that necessary."

Now, if you haven't purchased your tickets to see August: Osage County after reading these and my very own SOB Review, what are you waiting for?

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
August Heat Fires Up December Opening (December 4, 2007)
Cold Opening Possible For August: Osage County? (November 16, 2007)
Finally, Back To The Table (November 14, 2007)
Add August To The List? (November 14, 2007)
An August Work (October 30, 2007)
Steppenwolf Letts "Juicy" August Move Forward (September 15, 2007)
This October, Letts' "August" Begins On Broadway (August 22, 2007)
August: Osage County (The SOB Review) (August 19, 2007)

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At 05 December, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

I never would have seen "August: Osage County" if it hadn't been for your rave review. So thanks for being an early champion of this profoundly witty, emotional and hugely entertaining work.

Like I've said before, you'll definitely see something of yourself and your family in this play. I think it's an especially perceptive look at the lives of women. The set is incredible. I'm so thrilled I had a chance to see this play and I'm glad it's getting such a great reception from the critics.

While I'd heard about Steppenwolf, and knew about many of its famous alumni, I was just blown away by this talented company of actors. It just reminds you how much great theater there is all over this country.

And wow, Amy Morton as Nurse Ratched! That must have been awesome. She's so terrific.

At 05 December, 2007, Blogger Aaron Riccio said...

Didn't they have to let Isherwood review this one on account of him being one of the people to rave about it at Steppenwolf?


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