Monday, January 07, 2008

There Will Be...Osage County?

From a discussion of current cinema on Slate.com. Wesley Morris, Dana Stevens, Nathan Lee, and others contribute to roundtable. (There are also some interesting discussions about the need, or not, for large screen viewing of films.)

By coincidence, Dana, I read your latest post just after catching up with Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, which could be considered the There Will Be Blood of Broadway: It's three hours long, descends into madness at the end (complete with a ta-da! revelation about one character's parentage), and has, for the most part, been praised by critics as the Second Coming of a bygone type of classical American family drama. Whereas Anderson's film earns comparisons to
Griffith and Welles, Letts' play gets mentioned in the same breath as Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams—in other words, the biggies. And there's no question that Letts (whose paranoid, mordantly funny two-hander Bug was turned into a pretty terrific movie last year by William Friedkin) is driven by that sort of crazed, all-or-nothing ambition: He aspires to a place in the
canon. (There are even official August T-shirts with choice snatches of dialogue printed on them.)

And here's the thing: I think Letts has almost but not quite done
it—that his show is two-thirds brilliant and one-third a shapeless heap of half-formed Big Important Ideas about America and American families, most of which land like lead ballasts dropped from the top of the towering, three-story set. Particularly when the character of the eldest daughter arrives at her climactic monologue about why dissipation is more tragic than cataclysm (which serves roughly the same summary function as There Will Be Blood's "Draaainnnage/I drink your milkshake" scene), it feels as if Letts himself had walked out onto the stage to say, "Thanks for coming folks. Now, please stay in your seats while I explain to you the significance of what you've just
seen."

In the grand scheme of things, that's a minor quibble, especially
because August contains a central performance, by a Broadway neophyte named Deanna Dunagan, that will be talked about for many years to come in the same reverential tones that are being applied to Daniel Day-Lewis' work in Blood. My point is simply that third acts are tricky bits of business and—as we've already discussed in this year's Movie Club—the point at which a given book/play/movie either convinces an audience of its merit or loses them altogether.

2 comments:

betterversionofme said...

I'm planning on making a pilgrimage to New York in February to see the infamous "August" (whose reputation certainly precedes it). I'm definitely weary of the raves that reek of over hype (the next O'Neil? really?), but it does sound like I will be undeniably entertained (though maybe more in the vein of Maury than Miller)...expect a full report back to the home front.

Anonymous said...

August Osage County was actually more enjoyable than There will be blood in my opinion, And, Deanna will win the Tony. She 's terrific!!!!