The greatest generation that ain't

by Alan M. Berks • Mar. 17

After words |

What is August: Osage County ultimately about? I know the plot. I understand the long history of dysfunctional family dramas that it seems to both reference and stand on. I followed what was happening throughout the play when I saw it last night at the Ordway.

I'm just wondering what it's actually, ultimately, about because unless I'm missing something, I walked away feeling as though it were about how the Greatest Generation ain't so freaking great.

Like the anti-play to the play Death of a Salesman.

While Death of a Salesman lingers in my memory for the sentiment (among many others) that "attention must be paid" to these people who sacrificed their very souls to build the American Dream, August: Osage County screams, "Stop paying attention! Run! Save yourselves. Get out while you still can!"

It's kind of refreshing, and surprising, to see a successful, award-winning play that doesn't simply take advantage of the inherent drama in the dysfunctional family only to conclude with easy clichés about love of family (like the one where we say, "You make me crazy sometimes, but you’re my family and I love you" and then everyone hugs).

When a character in this play wants to give her parents some clichéd credit for at least building a marriage that lasted 50 years, another character reminds her that the marriage ended because the husband, their father, killed himself.

As I write this, I find myself liking the play I saw last night more and more. After the first act, I wandered out of the theater quite puzzled. I felt like I was watching an HBO movie, rather than a play. A good HBO movie, but still. . . After the second act, I thought, Well, it's still just a dysfunctional family drama, but at least it's really really fucked up. At least, I can still recognize the crazy-ass writer of "Killer Joe" and "Bug" in there. And, at the end, I was just kind of stunned. What just happened? Where did this play just go? Is this just some strange love-child of a high-quality filmed drama and low-quality day-time TV melodrama written by a super-smart and witty writer? Is it only a slightly more exotic thing than what Pulitzer Prize-winning plays have, in the last decade, often seemed to be: just television for people too snobby to watch television?

But as I think about this play more today, I've got to admit it's growing on me. (Of course, it's funny. Of course, it's well-done. Of course, you should see it. If you read this website, you're probably involved in the performing arts somehow, and you should see this play whether you're going to like it or not. Write the ticket price off on your tax returns; it's professional development. You should know what is out there. According to a Facebook post I read, you can get $25 if you use the ARTS03 code online. CORRECTION: The Ordway emailed to say that code was only good for Tuesday and Wednesday, BUT you can get $35 tickets, plus fees, for 2-4 tickets for the rest of the run if you use the ARTS02 code.)

I still don't know whether August is as inherently "theatrical" as I wish more plays were these days, but I definitely love what I now think the play is about: Sometimes, yes, you absolutely should run as far and as fast as you can from your family regardless of the blood relations. All that dysfunction ain't as cute as they make it appear on the Lifetime channel or in Christmas movies; sometimes, it's just really really bad, and it's going to take you down with it and all your children too, unless you escape.

Hey, I love my family. A lot. (Though Violet did actually remind me a little of my grandmother. Sorry, Grandma. Don't hit me with your cane please.) But, regardless, in the theater, I find it awful nice when someone strips away the sentimentality and makes me question whether my assumptions are true.

Unless, of course, I totally missed the point. in which case, I have absolutely no real idea of the point of all that shouting.

Comments

that's the point...maybe

Thank you for putting into sentences what I've been thinking and pondering in the days after having seen this (incredible) production. There were definitely moments of "run away" and "save yourself" and "your own destiny is up to you"...er, scratch that last one, because maybe we all find ourselves alone in the end. But I loved the unexpected and intriguing topics and the feeling that as f'd up as my own family may have seemed at times, I know it could be worse.

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