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The theater darkens, crowd’s light chatter subsides, and stage lights focus our attention on a magnificent structure. It’s a traditional farmhouse, with all your typical nooks and crannies, so big it juts out into the audience as if forcing us into this structure. The farmhouse is big. Three floors of potential activity kind of big. After over 3 hours of incredibly well acted scenes and biting dialogue I found myself contemplating: is the star of this show actually the set itself?
August, Osage County is a compelling drama about a family in crisis. They’re dealing with problems from the past and issues from the present. The family has a complex history of intertwining story lines where everyone seems to be unravelling, all in this farmhouse. At the beginning of the story, the characters are reunited for the first time in years due to the death of the family patriarch, Beverly Weston. From the moment everyone is together in the same house (and on the same stage) you get a feel for how divided and disconnected this family actually is.
This division is expertly paralleled in the different rooms of the house. Each room seemed to represent a different character or couple of characters. For example, the office den the story’s first scene opens in is representative of the character Beverly Weston: cluttered, old, and now dead. When any of the characters were in that room they seemed to reminisce about good times and old memories, much like Beverly did, who was tormented by a certain significant memory, which becomes the main plot revelation in the third act.
The energy of the set could be measured by the house aesthetics. When the lights were on and up, the characters were lively and the dialogue was colorful. Once the lights would dim and characters would scurry off to their sleeping quarters they were confined to their own emotions, setting the mood for their surroundings, or was it the surroundings setting the mood for them? The way the set was “dressed” also revealed quite a bit about the family. The farmhouse was clustered with rich, atmospheric trinkets and furniture that subconsciously gave us (the audience) more depth into the lives of these people.
The storage closet on the top floor, packed to the maximum with items never explored or mentioned in the story, is symbolic of the old, dusty secrets the family is hiding from one another. I found myself thinking about that storage closet after the play was over. It wasn’t necessary to have for the purpose of acting out the play, but was most definitely included to add a visual aid in telling the story and providing some subtle metaphor. This family was full of secrets, packed to the brim and unexplored. Issues locked tightly behind closed doors.
Johnna, the only character outside the family to live in the house, has her personal space where she sleeps up in the attic on the third floor, right next to that previously mentioned storage closet… the one full of secrets. A heavy metaphor for her window into the lives of this family presented itself to me as I thought more about the proximity of her space to that closet. Here she was, a complete outsider with no personal history with this family, yet throughout the story various members of the Weston house would confide in her, even more than they did their own kin.
Johnna is front and center in the pivotal final scene. The tormented mother Violet Weston, now all alone in her house after all the family secrets had been revealed and left out in the open to ferment, searches her home for anyone to talk to. Between floors in the farmhouse, which in itself speaks of where the characters might be in life, Johnna recites the haunting words from a T.S. Elliot poem: “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends”. Lights out.
The exit lights turn from dim to bright, the audience begins to clap as the cast makes their way to the front of the stage to take their bow, and I take one more look at all the colorful, twisted, complex characters, including the enormously complex and layered—literally—character of the farmhouse, who could unfortunately not bow.