Not since reading “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” have I come across a play that is so uncomfortable and beautiful all at the same time. “August: Osage County” centers on the Weston family living out in the plains of Oklahoma. There’s a death in the family and first part of the play is the family arriving to prepare for the funeral. Then the real action starts as the family is together for the funeral and what follows. Throughout we see old roles being reinforced, new roles attempted, old hearaches rewounded, and toxic family behaviors bubble up.
This all sounds terrible but in the hands of Tracy Letts all of the worst in a family are made real and it would be hard to find someone who wasn’t able to look away because they were thinking “I’ve seen this before. In my own family.” The awfulness of it all isn’t the detachement an audience can have for train wreck behavior. Instead, it’s the fact that you CAN’T remove yourself from the conflicts that you keep reading because this is where art and life meet.
Mixed into this family’s baggage is mental illness, addiction, infidelity, lies, and abuse. What makes this play so powerful is that it all comes out at a funeral and when the kids are all in their middle-ages. It’s been said that weddings and funerals bring out the worst in families. This play is no different. What kept me reading is watching to see what the characters were going to do. This was the catharsis. Letts gives you a hint at some of the conflicts to come and by the end of the play you can almost guess how the fights are going to go. Knowing what was coming kept this play from being overwhelming, but didn’t spoil any of the payout from the conflicts.
I recommend reading this play whether you have or have not seen the film (which you should see too!). Maybe don’t read this on a rainy day or if you’re having a case of the blues. This is realism and there’s no happy ending by the close of the play.