August: Osage County Wins Pulitzer

Ken AshfordTheatreLeave a Comment

Not a surprise to me.  It was one of the best theatrical experiences (for a straght play) I’ve ever experienced, with the possible exception of Angels in America (another Pulitzer winner):

Augustosagestepprod20015014q6iTracy Letts’ dysfunctional-family drama August: Osage County, which opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in December 2007, has won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalists were Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang and Dying City by Christopher Shinn.

The 2008 Letters, Drama and Music jurors included Peter Marks (drama critic for The Washington Post), David Lindsay-Abaire (the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama winner), Jeremy McCarter (drama critic for New York Magazine), Charles McNulty (drama critic for the L.A. Times) and Lisa Portes (head of MFA Directing and artistic director of Chicago Playworks for Young Audiences, the Theater School, DePaul University).

Since Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County arrived on Broadway — directly from Steppenwolf, where it also garnered rave reviews — theatre folk have talked of the triple-decker drama (three acts, three generations of one tortured family) as a classic award-getter. It’s serious-minded; it’s long; it examines the timeless American subject of family — all earmarks of those sorts of works that are frequently considered significant.

At this time last year, few would have thought Chicago-based playwright Letts a contender for the Pulitzer. He was known for two potboiler genre plays, Killer Joe and Bug, both of which did well Off-Broadway, but didn’t necessarily inspire critics to dust off a place for the writer in the theatre pantheon. His third play, Man From Nebraska was a Pulitzer contender. Still, when August: Osage County opened at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company in June 2007, many remarked that it constituted a wholly unexpected step up for Letts. Reviews compared it to Albee, O’Neill, Shepard and a host of other weighty writers.

The story concerns the Weston family, a large Oklahoma clan with its share of problems. The family is handed a fresh peck of trouble and strife when patriarch Beverly up and disappears. Old wounds are torn open and new ones are unearthed, with the force of family exerting as irresistible a tidal pull on the various Westons as any ocean.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play — directed by Anna D. Shapiro — will offer its last performance at its current home, the Imperial Theatre, April 20 at 3 PM. Beginning April 29, the Steppenwolf production will begin performances at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre.

The cast features Ian Barford, Deanna Dunagan, Kimberly Guerrero, Francis Guinan, Brian Kerwin, Madeleine Martin, Mariann Mayberry, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Jeff Perry, Rondi Reed and Troy West. Michael McGuire recently joined the cast as patriarch Beverly Weston. McGuire succeeded Dennis Letts, the playwright’s father, who created the role of the dissipated poet and died Feb. 22 after a battle with lung cancer.