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August: Osage County

Dundee Rep
Five stars

Everyone is on different drugs in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning American epic, which receives its Scottish premiere in new Dundee Rep artistic director Andrew Panton's revival, a decade after it first appeared on Broadway and the West End. It's not just the booze and pills that the ageing heads of the Weston clan Beverley and Violet cling to for comfort that makes communication between them so impossible. It's the assorted emotional crutches their three daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen alongside their extended family hold on to for dear life that leaves everyone so desperately isolated from each other.

The Westons are reunited on Alex Lowde's revolving open plan set after Beverley disappears shortly after hiring young Native American woman Johnna to keep house and look after an increasingly delirious Violet. What follows over almost three and a half hours is a slow burning tragi-comic explosion of collective dysfunction, with all its secrets, lies, failures and flaws exposed.

Led by a magnificent pairing of Ann Louise Ross as Violet and Emily Winter as Barbara, every one of the thirteen actors onstage is heroic in putting flesh on Letts' frequently wise-cracking script. There may be much talk of struggle, but it is the serenity and quiet strength of Betty Valencia's Johnna who becomes the play's moral heart.

On one level, Letts is laying bare the monstrous and monumental mess of family life by way of a series of increasingly extreme revelations. On another, the play is a microcosm, not just of a country in free-fall, but an entire system in which a basic capacity for love has been broken by corrupted western values.

The Herald, September 7th 2017

ends

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