Review

Ellen Geer leads a crackling 'August: Osage County' at Theatricum Botanicum

“A normal person is just someone you don’t know well enough,” playwright Tracy Letts once said.

On the flip side, Letts’ 2008 Pulitzer Prize- and multiple Tony Award-winning “August: Osage County” holds up a mirror in which his abnormal characters—for all their comical exaggeration—are people we know all too well. A splendid revival of Letts’ 2007 masterpiece continues a banner repertory season at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.

If there’s a modern-day successor to Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” it’s this portrait of a dysfunctional family gathering in which self-delusions are mercilessly stripped away.

“Just time we had some truths told ’round here’s all,” snarls Theatricum artistic director Ellen Geer’s hilarious pill-popping matriarch, Violet Weston, in a luminous performance worth the ticket price alone. Just because she’s loopy doesn’t make her barbs any less accurate.

Adding a witty meta-theatrical layer, director Mary Jo DuPrey steers a 13-member cast comprising Geer's kinfolk and their extended family of longtime ensemble actors. Who better to explore the intricate neurosis of a family reunion?

Precipitating the stifling summer assembly of the far-flung Westons at their rural Oklahoma home is the disappearance of Violet's husband (Tim Halligan), a once-famous poet whose introductory monologue heralds the thematic deconstruction of the American dream wrapped in nonstop incisive humor that makes the message all the more devastating.

The famous dinner scene serves up equal portions of side-splitting laughter and squirm-inducing horror. Standouts in the sprawling cast include Theatricum mainstays Melora Marshall, Alan Blumenfeld, Abby Craden, Willow Geer and Aaron Hendry.

The energy flags at times in the third act, and Susan Angelo’s reading of eldest daughter Barbara is overly shaded with mopey self-pity that undercuts her sarcastic commentary and the thunderous outrage with which she takes charge of the situation—Barbara is supposed to be every inch her mother’s daughter.

Notwithstanding some quibbles, this monumental undertaking affords a rare opportunity to experience one of the great American plays of our time.

“August: Osage County,” Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. 7:30 p.m. performances in repertory through Sept. 27; for schedule (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com. $27–$39.50. Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes.

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