This time of year in Washington, a thick summer swelter hangs in the air. It’s uncomfortable and at times downright suffocating, but it’s nothing compared with the heavy cloud of resentment and deep-seated family tension that permeates the crowded Oklahoma home at the center of playwright Tracy Letts’s powerful August: Osage County, now playing at the Keegan Theatre’s Church Street playhouse. The staging of this nearly four-hour-long drama…is a remarkable feat for director Mark A. Rhea and an outstanding cast of actors.
The nubby crocheted throw blankets and overflowing ashtrays of set designer Stefan Gibson’s dreary and straightforward design, along with the decision to use actors in character to move props and set pieces between scenes only make the claustrophobic family atmosphere that much more authentic.”
The production as a whole is beautifully acted, with every complicated character adding a distinct shade to the overall portrait of a troubled Plains family. But [Susan Marie] Rhea and [Rena Cherry] Brown are magnetic—Rhea builds a bittersweet arc of strength and vulnerability as her character reaches a personal tipping point, while Brown emanates Violet’s pain and fury from somewhere hauntingly deep and raw, captivating the space with her every perfectly slurred word or stumble. The show is funny, too, dotted with effortless scenes of affection and the comfortable familiarity of seemingly different people bonded by unfortunate genetics and shared history. Teetering on the line of intense drama and relatable comedy, the action strikes a rich, realistic balance that resounds long after the performance ends.
Letts packs August’s three-and-a-half-hour running time with stunning twists and revelations that could easily border on soap-operatic, but the cast and artistic team here rein it in toward the believable, artfully injecting the dusty sadness of a rural farmhouse with life at its most climactic. .