A Very Dark “August: Osage County”
By Skip Sheffield
“Misery loves family”
That’s the tag line of “August: Osage County,” based on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, with screenplay by the playwright.
“August” is an actor’s showcase, and in this case director John Wells (“The Company Men”) has pit Meryl Streep against her entire family, but in particular eldest daughter Barbara, played by Julia Roberts.
You could call this stunt casting, because both Streep and Roberts are lovely women who are “uglied up” for their roles.
This is particularly true for matriarch Violet Weston, played by Meryl Streep. Not only is Violet a shaky, pill-popping, chain-smoking, extremely nasty person; she is dying of cancer. Streep had her head patchily shaved and dyed black with contrasting gray to simulate a chemotherapy patient. Most of the time she wears a ratty dark wig and scowls.
The family’s alcoholic, depressed patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) was once a famous poet. Now he has disappeared and mom’s days are numbered. That’s why the family is summoned to hash things out somewhere in small-town Oklahoma.
A monumental soap opera of arguing, abuse, betrayal, cruelty, pettiness and even incest ensues. In fairness it is a first-rate cast playing horrible people. In time it is revealed that Barbara is separated from husband Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor), a college professor who is having an affair with a young student. Violet’s sister Mattie (Margo Martindale) has a dark secret she has kept from husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and “Little Charles” Aiken (Benedict Cumberbatch), who fancies Barbara’s younger sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson). Middle sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) has a 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) who fancies pot and attracts the unwanted attention of Karen’s fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney).
If this all sounds intriguing, by all means see “August: Osage County.” Be advised there is no happy ending, only a final quote from one of T.S. Eliot’s darkest poems. For me, one visit was enough.