I've got two more weeks before I go back to school, the crickets are chirping outside my window as though counting down to the end of summer, and this post is titled in tribute to a new play, August: Osage County, which seems to be creating quite a furor in Chicago.
I mean, Charles Isherwood even raved about it--a rare occurrence! And I am completely intrigued. First of all, by the sheer size--13 actors, 3 acts, 3 hours 20 minutes--a canvas that hardly any American playwright uses anymore. How many plays have had 13 cast members recently? The Kentucky Cycle? Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play? I'm looking forward to the complexity of human relationships afforded by having more than 5 or 7 cast members.
Second, I'm curious whether and how playwright Tracy Letts has done something original with his subject matter. Can a play that incorporates "drug abuse, alcoholism, adultery, pedophilia, emotional and physical abuse, and special bonus horror: incest!" rise above the shock value of those elements, escape the trappings of cheap melodrama and soap opera, and actually say something? Isherwood calls it "more a potboiler than a heart-scouring tragedy," and compares it to Martin McDonagh's style of ultra-violent ultra-black comedy...but I'm a fan of that. I'm actually glad that Isherwood says it is "ferociously enjoyable," rather than an entirely serious and melodramatic consideration of Important Issues.
As Isherwood's review proves, the classic American plays have always been about families--larger-than-life families. And there haven't been many larger-than-life characters on the American stage recently, I feel. Rabbit Hole is about a family, but they're everyday, relatable people going through a crisis--not dramatic personalities in their own right. The makeshift family of Angels in America are some of the last American stage characters that have become iconic figures. And I never get urges to write plays about families--perhaps because I'm an only child. Does this mean I'll have a harder time creating iconic characters or dramatic situations? (Aristotle would have you believe that the only possible plays are about families!) So I'm excited to see or read this dysfunctional-family drama, and meet what may be the newest additions to the list of iconic American characters.