“August: Osage County” produced by Balagan Theatre

Don’t miss this!

It’s a Pulitzer and Tony award-winning play given a production that is, in a word, superb. I saw the play when it was on Broadway and I saw it again when it came to the Paramount here in Seattle and starred the inimitable Estelle Parsons. The Balagan production is as good, and in one way a little better.

This is a play about family disharmony; a play where long-held secrets are revealed and few characters get through it unscathed. It’s a play about intimacies, and as such, it is at its best taking place in an intimate environment. Balagan’s 151-seat theatre is just the right intimate environment, a much better one than the mammoth houses where audiences are removed from the action.

Playwright Tracy Letts is the master of dysfunctional families, families where conversations are like two ferry boats passing each other going in opposite directions. He’s the poet of provocation, and a master comic. He’s particularly skilled in clothing heartbreaking tragedy in hysterically funny dialogue. There’s a family dinner that’s the quintessential family disaster. It’s outrageously funny, even though it’s painfully cruel and sad. Like so much of the play, we can’t avoid relating to it.

Director Shawn Belyea has pulled together an accomplished cast to play the members of the Weston family gathered at the family home northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma because Dad has disappeared. There’s not one of them who doesn’t have problems. The biggest problem of them all is Violet, the prescription-drug-addled mother of the clan who staggers about, screaming obscenities and hateful words. Shellie Shulkin as Vi is spellbinding in a role that demands she be malicious, vengeful, self absorbed, yet needy.

Teri Lazzara excels as Barbara, the daughter who is left to pick up the pieces. There’s not a weak actor on this stage.

At the very beginning of the play, Bev Weston, the man who all too soon goes missing, says, “You have to admire the purity of the survivor’s instinct.” It is up to you to decide if you can admire—or even if there really are any survivors.

Through April 27 by Balagan Theatre at Erickson Theatre 1524 Harvard Ave., Seattle, (206 329-1050 or www.balagantheatre.org)

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