Back in 2008, American playwright Tracy Letts scooped the prize pool. His new play August Osage County moved to Broadway in late 2007 from its original run at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago a few months earlier, only to be hailed by many as the best new American play in a generation. The Broadway production won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Play, lead actress Deanna Dunagan was also awarded a Tony as Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Violet Weston, while the play itself won a Pulitzer.
In the theatre, August Osage County looked very naturalistic, reminding us of some of the great plays of yesteryear such as Albees’ Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Yet at times it was also a melodrama, a domestic comedy, a tragicomedy, a black comedy, a soap opera, perhaps even a sitcom with a very dark edge, and even at the playwright’s own admission an allegory for life under the Bush administration. Like the best of Shakespeare’s works, August Osage County had a number of subplots occurring, some obvious, other merely suggested. While it was not everyone’s cup of tea, the play was nevertheless a runaway commercial and critical success everywhere it played.
And now, along comes the film. When you base a film on a multi-award winning play, it is always going to arrive with a lot of commotion. In this instance, for better or worse, Letts has adapted his own play for the screen. With a strong cast that includes Meryl Streep as Violet Weston (the matriarch of the family), Julia Roberts as her eldest daughter Barbara, along with Ewen McGregor and Juliette Lewis in the supporting cast, August Osage County should pack just as powerful a punch on the big screen as it did in the theatre. But does it?
While local readers of The Drama Teacher will have to wait until New Year’s Day to see the film, August Osage County has already opened in America to mixed reviews. It is generally agreed Streep and Roberts perform at or near their very best. While a few have suggested Streep is overly theatrical in the film, you could argue her role asks for it. A three-hour stage play has been cut down to just over two hours on screen. One thing is very clear to me so far – after reading dozens of early American reviews of the film, I am yet to find a film reviewer who saw the play in the theatre, hence, while not essential, a comparison with the stage version of the story cannot be made. At the very least, I’ll be asking my senior Drama students to hop along and see August Osage County for a lesson in quality acting (and an insight into how a highly dysfunctional family behaves).
Comment below and share your thoughts if you have seen the film. Of particular interest is anyone who has seen both the stage play and the film August Osage County.