Like many audiences at the time, I eagerly lapped up all three-and-a-half hours of Tracy Letts’ watershed family drama August: Osage County when it played on Broadway in 2007, and felt like I could watch three more. It was such a rich, crackling mix of catastrophe and comedy, of venom and vigor, played by the Steppenwolf cast for whom it was crafted, that I count it among the high points of my theatregoing. It got variously compared to Shepard, Albee, O’Neill, and others, but to me the seamless ensemble work, in service of the play’s multivocal empathy, made it feel closer to Chekhov — if Chekhov had been born in mid-century Oklahoma. But though it won the Pulitzer and Tony, a small but vocal group of dissenting critics saw the play’s dysfunctional-family shenanigans as mere trashy fun, a bleak sitcom that couldn’t really stand up to its lofty dramatic forebears.
Well, I had occasion to revisit the script when I wrote a program piece about it for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010, and I can testify that its bitter, gleaming brilliance shone through. If you haven’t read it on the page, or it’s just been a while since you did, do yourself a favor. To paraphrase Barbara, the Weston daughter who reluctantly but full-throatedly seizes the reins of her disintegrating clan: It’ll make you wish for a heartwarming claw hammer story.
— Rob Weinert-Kendt, Editor-in-Chief, American Theatre magazine