October 23rd, 2009 | by BEN WATERHOUSE News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Curtain Raiser: Go see August: Osage County

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There are many, many shows on Portland stages this weekend, but there is only one you must see: August: Osage County, the sprawling family drama by Tracy Letts that won the Tony and Pulitzer for best drama in 2008. The touring production comes straight from Broadway, with its stellar cast and three-story set intact. Much praise has been justly given to Estelle Parsons, the 81-year-old Oscar-winning actress who plays Violet, the acid-tongued, pill-addicted matriarch of a screwed-up Oklahoma family. Her performance is an astonishing physical feat of stumbling and screaming and abiding resentment of life in general, but she is in good company. You just don't see this kind of ensemble on Portland stages. Every member of the 13-person cast is exceptional, and the familial conflicts are explosive.

August is a story of substance abuse, disappointment and suicide, and Letts draws liberally from the great American playwrights of the 20th century: a little Williams here, a touch of Miller there, a smear of Albee over everything. After Beverly, Violet's alcoholic poet husband, disappears, the whole dysfunctional extended family shows up—the unhappy daughters, the overbearing sister, the various hangers-on. It's a three-act realist drama of the classic style, clocking in at what should be an intolerable two and a half hours; it feels like 90 minutes. The language is cruel and hilarious, and hearing audience members gasp and guffaw at the same lines is a treat. Letts sets up one dramatic cliche after another and knocks them down acidly.

There are five performances left in the show's six-day run. Don't miss this one. There are other shows this weekend, including a few really good ones. (Have you seen Ragtime? You should.) But none rival August.

Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 and 6:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 20-25. $23.25-$68.25.
 
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