August: Osage County

Direction : Lillete Dubey
Writer : Tracy Letts
Cast : Lillete Dubey, Kitu Gidwani, Sandhya Mridul, Suchitra Pillai, Ira Dubey, Denzil Smith, Amar Talwar, Maneesh Verma, Danny Sura, Auritra Ghosh and Meeta Vasisht

August: Osage County play review


AUGUST:OSAGE COUNTYTracy Letts' AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is a much acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize winning play. In her version, Lillete Dubey, director and lead actor, hasn't changed much of the play except to re-locate the Weston family from Pawhuska, Oklahoma to Goa and change the names of a couple of characters. The original play spans three acts, and Primetime Theatre Co's version is a little beyond two hours.

The play opens with an inebriated poet Leon (Denzil Smith) reluctantly agreeing to join the "hiring class" and interviewing Joanna (Ira Dubey) for the position of a house-help/cook. Denzil's booming voice drawls, sometimes incoherently, as a drunk man's should and the audience is introduced to the ways of the main protagonist, Violet (Lillete Dubey). Leon sums up the situation of the house succinctly, "My wife takes pills, and I drink. That's the bargain we've struck."

The conversation between Leon and the house-help Joanna elicits constant laughs. Denzil is efficiently endearing as Leon and Joanna quickly takes to her background with a book of poetry by TS Elliot that the master of the house hands her. Leon is never seen again after this scene, leaving the stage open for the rest of the rather large family to take over.

The first to arrive on the scene is Violet's sister Mattie (Kitu Gidwani) with her henpecked husband Danny (Amar Talwar). Mattie quickly establishes herself as the pesky, overbearing woman and Kitu gets the character pat down. She is certainly one of the highlights of the play. The mousy Ivy (Suchitra Pillai), the middle daughter, who lives with her parents, Leon and Violet, tries helping her mother get over the initial grief by letting herself be bullied. Ivy's many attempts at asserting herself are promptly dismissed by her mother and aunt and the first signs of simmering discontent become obvious.

Next to arrive are Violet's oldest daughter Barbara (Sandhya Mridul), her estranged husband Ash (Maneesh Verma) and her bratty, pot-smoking, 15-year-old daughter Jennie (Auritra Ghosh). Here's where the tempo of the play begins to drop, which is surprising because it's now that the family's deeper and darker secrets are revealed to the audience. Unfortunately, the Sandhya-Maneesh-Auritra combination pulls the energy on stage down. One would expect fireworks as the intoxicated Violet and the control-freak Barbara get into huge (?!) mother-daughter fight but all we get are damp punch lines.

Auritra's Jennie barely comes across as a rebellious teenager. Maybe what makes things worse is that the Broadway version of the play had Madeleine Martin (of the TV series 'Californication' fame) in the same role and that had built up my expectations. Maneesh Verma comes across more henpecked than Uncle Danny and it's hard to believe that he could be a successful philanderer.

Meeta Vashisht, who plays Violet's third daughter Karen, is a welcome relief then. She is fabulous as the daughter used to being overlooked by both her parents. Like her sisters, the airhead Karen is trying to come to grips with the many disappointments life has thrown at her. She brings her fiancee Steve (Denzil Smith, again) along and stays busy peddling dreams of her impending wedding at her father's funeral.

The irony of the situation that the ragged family finds itself in, is on full display by the interval and in the second half the concoction is ready to boil. The last character to walk into the scene is Mattie's son Little Danny (Danny Sura). Danny manages to impress in the few minutes that he is on stage. It's because of commendable performances by Kitu and Danny that the conflict in the subplot comes across more powerfully.

The second half of the play is when Lillete's Violet rules the stage. When Violet begins to pick on everybody at the dinner table, the pace of play picks up. No one is spared as Violet, "in a rare form", makes her way through a vicious diatribe against everyone in her family and with each mean, little victory, she gains immeasurable strength. Her monologue on the dinner table is hands down worthy of a standing ovation.

Eventually, despite Karen's vain attempts at "feeling a connection" with her family, the sisterhood withers away. At the end, Violet's hopes from her favourite daughter are dashed and she is left all alone. As the lights dim, the only two characters left on stage are Violet and Joanna. Perhaps, that's how Leon expected it to be.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY takes a regular episode of the television series, 'Brothers and Sisters' and twists it to a morbid end. If you are headed to watch this play don't expect a laugh riot; this is not a leave-your-brain-at-home comedy. In AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY you will find a rare, intelligent comedy that leaves you with a sad, yet satisfied, smile.

*Charulata enjoys watching theatre, and writing about it.

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