On the last Friday of each month, the Irving Theater hosts a Songwriter's Circle, where four singer-songwriters take turns performing. It's a fine way to check out new music. If you enjoy a performer, you get to hear them again a few minutes later. If you don't, you take comfort knowing that three other artists will do a number before the singer that turned you off gets another turn.
August: Osage County serves as a large, unruly Actor's Circle. Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Misty Upham and Sam Shepard participate. Each of them gets to periodically step out of the ensemble and have a big, juicy turn in the spotlight where they can act their fannies off (to be fair, it should be noted that Sam Shepard only takes one turn, and Misty Upham remains a supporting player through the whole shebang).
Directed by John Wells and adapted by Tracy Letts from his play, August is one of those melodramatic extravaganzas where a scattered family returns to the homestead for a major event and all hell breaks loose over and over, giving each actor a chance to take center stage and emote like crazy.
I was entertained drinking in the excess of it all and watching the cast members ham it up, but I didn't become emotionally involved for a single second. By cranking the central characters up to 11 and ladling on so much pathos, Wells and Letts smother anything relatable.
At least they did for me. My family certainly had blowups over the years, but they were far less operatic. Some relatives might have had issues with others, but they generally were content to look sullen and/or occasionally toss off a snarky remark. If there was a blowup, it would almost always be an isolated incident between two people, followed by a stomp-off. Then everyone would retreat to different parts of the house and grounds to discuss the incident to death. I can't remember any gathering where there was more than one explosion. It would have been too tiring.
Not so in the Osage County family. There's a big blowup followed by noisy reactions, then a brief period of relative calm before the cycle repeats with different family members. Can anyone actually sustain such a dynamic for such a long period of time? Does anyone actually behave like this? Watching the ongoing interactive mayhem, I half expected to spot Jane Goodall hiding behind a bush taking notes.
I'm not going to recount the story. Suffice to say viewers will encounter a drug and drama addicted matriarch, a depressed boozy patriarch, estranged daughters and their partners and children dealing with disease, death, secrets, cheating, divorce, incest, and resentments piled on resentments piled on resentments. Oh, and it's really hot, which various characters frequently mention in vain attempts to add physical discomfort to the emotional turmoil.
So there you go. August: Osage County. The cast is impressive. The acting is strong, though a couple of characters seem miscast. Care to dive in? Maybe the uber-traumatic goings-on more will seem more familiar to you than they were to me. Gosh, I hope not.