“August: Osage County” conquers Broadway

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There is no clever blog post title needed.  The reviews are in, and very simply put, our very own Steppenwolf Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” has taken Broadway and New York City, hell the entire national American theatrical community, by storm.  From Christopher Isherwood’s uncharacteristically passionate, unbelievably over-the-moon gushy rave in the New York Times: “…”August” is probably the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years. Oh, forget probably: It is, flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years.” This is a play that received its world premiere in Chicago, written by a Chicago-based playwright and actor, nurtured and bravely staged by a theatre company that is a quintessentially Chicago institution, and employing the world-class talents of Chicago artists, both onstage, and off.  With “August’s” Broadway triumph, I strongly believe that the city of Chicago-and it’s artistic talent, it’s ambitions, it’s cultural climate, it’s sophisticated theatre audience-triumphs as well.One of the wonderful things about the Broadway transfer of the Chicago production is the fact that most of the original ensemble members are re-creating their roles in New York, especially the phenomenal Deanna Dunagan, who has never appeared in a Broadway play, but who has been an acclaimed Chicago actor for a long time.  Isherwood singles her out with this heart-stopping praise:  “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.”  From Variety’s equally ecstatic rave: “Violet may be a card-carrying bitch, but her humor and intelligence are never obscured in Dunagan’s magisterially brutal performance (imagine a really pissed-off Judy Davis), exposing just enough of the fragile cracks in her dragon-lady persona to make her a human monster.”

Our very own Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, continuously locked in a deathgrip with the New York Times dynamic duo of Ben Brantley and Isherwood, of course predictably publishes his review of the Broadway production the same day as the Times’.  He has always been an ardent supporter of the play and I’m glad to see that he has not changed his position at all. Chris says “…even if the conflicts seem traditional, their scale, expression and intensity are not. And Letts has also penned an outrageously funny and shrewdly arch play for a generation accustomed to self-aware gothic shockers at the multiplex. This thing lasts three hours 15 minutes and holds this massive Broadway joint for every moment. It is a very good – nay, a great – modern American play, a fearless fusion of populist theatrics with caustic truths.”

I already have my ticket for the January 4, 2008 performance so I will be posting my impressions of the Broadway production soon.  However, I can still vividly remember that very warm Friday night in July when BFF Camela and I sat through more than three hours of magnificent theatre at 1650 North Halsted st.  I remember thinking then that regardless of how experienced and jaded a theatre-goer I was, and how articulately I could expound on my views about a play, there was only one word I could muster at that time:  “Wow”.  The Bears and the Cubs may have disappointed Chicago again this year, Barack is still trailing Hilary, the 2016 Olympic bid seemingly seems light years away from becoming reality, but for the here and now, Chicagoans, both long-standing Steppenwolf subscribers and supporters, and casual theatre-goers alike, can take pleasure and pride that a Chicago play has began making a seismic impact on the national cultural and theatrical conversation. 

6 Responses to ““August: Osage County” conquers Broadway”

  1. Steve On Broadway (SOB) Says:

    Enjoyed reading your post. I have no doubt that you will have your socks knocked off – make that blown off – when you see “August: Osage County” in January. It’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen!

  2. francis Says:

    Thanks Steve. I actually had my socks blown off already, and well, most of my apparel and accessories too, when I saw the Chicago production back in July. It was a crazy night- during the two intermissions, audience members were rushing out to make cell phone calls to their friends and family insisting that they get tickets. And at the curtain call, when the first set of actors came out to take their bows, the adrenaline of the standing ovation was so unlike what I had previously experienced in a theatre – it was like this strange but wonderful exhilaration of a baseball game, a political rally, and a Madonna concert combined.

    PS- I also like reading your blog.

  3. Steve On Broadway (SOB) Says:

    Thanks Francis. My experience in seeing the show was quite similar, including the sheer exuberance of the audience during intermission in realizing that they were in the midst of seeing a new masterpiece.

    My only lament in reading this morning’s reviews is wondering where on earth The New York Times’ first-stringer was. We already knew what Charles Isherwood thought – I had actually been looking forward to reading Ben Brantley’s review.

    Cheers!

  4. francis Says:

    Hi Steve. I believe Charles Isherwood reviewed the Broadway production because he was the one who reviewed the Chicago production. I think this is consistent with what the Times has done in the past (Isherwood also reviewed both the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of “Spring Awakening”, for example). Having said that, I find it mildly amusing that his review of the Chicago production in the summer, despite being an unqualified rave, was more restrained than his review of the New York production. Check out Tony Adams’ blog comment about this here: http://jayraskolnikov.blogspot.com/

  5. Richard Says:

    Great Post. This Play confirms the potency and brilliance of the Chicago Theatre scene. Steppenwolf once again, raises the bar.

  6. francis Says:

    Hi Richard. Thanks for your comment. I am glad you came across my blog. The big news as of today is that “August: Osage County” has more than $3 million in advance ticket sales, a record of sorts for a straight play on Broadway. It is amazing and very heartening for Steppenwolf Theatre supporters like us.

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