Au­gust: Osage County the­atre re­view

The un­happy fam­ily in Au­gust: osage county

The McGill Daily - - News - Caro­line Macari Cul­ture Writer

Con­tent warn­ing: men­tions of sui­cide and sub­stance abuse

Au­gust: Osage County by Daw­son Col­lege Pro­duc­tions ran from Jan­uary 23 to Fe­bru­ary 4. The Pulitzer-win­ning play by Tracy Letts chron­i­cles a tu­mul­tuous time in the life of an Oklahoma fam­ily. The play opens with pro­tag­o­nist Vi­o­let We­ston’s elderly hus­band, Beverley, com­mit­ting sui­cide just be­fore their chil­dren and grand­child come to visit, forc­ing the fam­ily to con­front their dark, hid­den re­al­i­ties.

The cast mem­bers, part of Daw­son Col­lege’s pro­fes­sional act­ing pro­gram, per­formed an im­pres­sive show against a sim­ple, hand­made back­drop. Props were also elim­i­nated from this pro­duc­tion, invit­ing the au­di­ence to imag­ine the ac­tion as the char­ac­ters re­al­is­ti­cally imi­tated smok­ing, phys­i­cal fight­ing be­tween fam­ily mem­bers, and eat­ing a post­fu­neral meal. By sim­pli­fy­ing and de­clut­ter­ing the­atri­cal tech­ni­cal­i­ties, the ac­tor’s height­ened cre­ativ­ity, at­ten­tion to de­tail, and com­plex act­ing was able to be bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated.

Au­gust, com­prised of a pre­dom­i­nantly fe­male cast, ex­plores the re­la­tion­ships be­tween women in the fam­ily – and specif­i­cally in­ves­ti­gates the com­plex­i­ties of fam­ily and men­tal health, the process of grief, and the re­al­i­ties of ad­dic­tion. Bar­bara, Vi­o­let’s el­dest daugh­ter, ex­em­pli­fies sup­port and loy­alty in how she han­dles Vi­o­let’s drug ad­dic­tion. She is en­cour­ag­ing with­out be­ing pa­tron­iz­ing or force­ful, but she also does not let her mother suf­fer in si­lence. She opens up dis­cus­sion of the drug use and sug­gests pos­si­bil­i­ties for re­cov­ery, while jug­gling her own di­vorce from a cheat­ing hus­band and con­sid­er­ing the ef­fects of the di­vorce on her daugh­ter, Jean. Bar­bara’s younger sis­ter, Karen, em­bod­ies cool­ness and spunk. She ini­tially seems silly and even ig­no­rant of her fam­ily’s hard­ships, but through­out the play, she em­braces growth as she ex­pe­ri­ences ha­rass­ment from her fi­ance and learns to be a more present sis­ter, daugh­ter, and aunt.

Vi­o­let suf­fers from mouth cancer due to ex­ces­sive smok­ing, but then be­comes ad­dicted to her med­i­ca­tion and more in­tense sub­stances. The play care­fully ap­proaches the topic of drug ad­dic­tion, con­vey­ing through Beverley’s sui­cide and the fam­ily’s sub­se­quent fo­cus on Vi­o­let in her time of grief, that it is pos­si­ble to re­cover with sup­port from loved ones. How­ever, the play also sheds light on the ef­fects of toxic fam­ily dy­nam­ics on one’s men­tal health. Through­out the play, Vi­o­let’s daugh­ters of­ten gaslight and crit­i­cize her, ex­cus­ing their be­hav­iour with the fact of her ad­dic­tion.

At first, Au­gust seem­ingly re­lies on racial­ized and gen­dered stereo­types in its por­trayal of Johnna, the In­dige­nous nanny and house­keeper serv­ing a white fam­ily. She is ini­tially servile, spir­i­tual, and fi­nan­cially re­liant on the We­ston fam­ily, who as­sume the po­si­tion of white saviours. How­ever, as her char­ac­ter de­vel­ops, the play seems to show rev­er­ence and re­spect for In­dige­nous tra­di­tions. In one scene, Johnna shows Jean, the We­ston’s teenage grand­daugh­ter, pho­tos from her par­ents’ wedding. Jean com­pli­ments their “cos­tumes,” and Johnna ex­plains to Jean, and the au­di­ence, the cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance of her par­ents’ mar­riage cer­e­mony. This gave the char­ac­ter a voice and the op­por­tu­nity to re­claim rep­re­sen­ta­tion of her iden­tity from the mouths of the white We­ston fam­ily.

Au­gust: Osage County dealt with provoca­tive el­e­ments that, at times, for­ayed into dark, heavy mo­ments. It asked its au­di­ence to con­sider the im­por­tance and com­plex­i­ties of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, men­tal health and the ef­fects of drug use, and the im­pli­ca­tions of dys­func­tional fam­ily dy­nam­ics – with­out pre­sent­ing a way to rec­on­cile th­ese el­e­ments. In­stead, it closes on an am­bigu­ous note as Vi­o­let weeps into the arms of Johnna, the two of them alone to­gether in­def­i­nitely, stat­ing the clos­ing line from T.S. Eliot’s Hol­low Men: “this is the way the world ends.”

Cour­tesy of Daw­son Col­lege Pro­duc­tions

Au­gust: Osage County ex­plores com­plex fam­ily dy­nam­ics.

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