08 February 2008

August: Osage County isn't just the best play I've ever seen on Broadway—it's arguably the best work of art I've seen all year, trumping even the fruits of an exceptional year for movies. It's like the mirror image of There Will Be Blood: instead of an epic movie with no women set in all of the outdoors, it's an implosive play with seven amazing female characters—and six amazing men—set entirely in a house where the windows have been papered over. Yet the chain-smoking, pill-popping family matriarch is more frightening than Daniel Plainview with a bowling ball. Even Anton Chigurh would feel uncomfortable in this crowd. (I can easily imagine Violet Weston, the scariest mother in recent theatrical history, reducing Chigurh to a sniveling lump with a few choice remarks about his awful haircut.)

As an occasional playgoer, I've often sympathized with Homer Simpson, who, confronted with a quiet day at the zoo, exclaimed: "I've seen plays that were more exciting than this! Honest to God—plays!" And at first glance, August: Osage County seems like a hard sell. Yes, it's three hours long. But in practice, those three hours feel more like thirty minutes, and they're over all too soon. It isn't a perfect play—the bracketing of the story with quotations by T.S. Eliot feels too neat, a saintly American Indian character is woefully undeveloped, and there are one or two surprise revelations too many—but you get the feeling that these issues would have been addressed if the play ran four, five, or six hours. I would have been more than willing to spend an entire day with these characters, if the results remained as consistently funny, shocking, and compelling as they are now. Will there be blood? Are you kidding?

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