August: Osage County

Broadway, Play

Theatre: Imperial Theatre / Music Box Theatre

BOTTOM LINE: it's as good as the hype...the story and characters are totally compelling. Highly recommended for anyone who likes smart comedy with a darker side. And you can go for $26.50.

I had heard a lot about Tracy Letts' new play, August: Osage County, before I got to see it myself and since everything I had heard was extremely positive, I wasn't so sure it would live up to the hype that had been built up. Probably not surprisingly, it managed to exceed every expectation I had. I'm not sure I'd say it's the best new work in decades, but it's pretty damn good and entirely worth seeing now with this cast.

August: Osage County is the story of the quintessential dysfunctional family and the drama that ensues when they get together after hearing that their father has disappeared. In the midst of tragedy, the extended family (headed by their pill-popping matriarch) must try to reconnect and come to terms with the loss of their father while discovering dark and disturbing secrets about their kin. Although the subject matter is heavy, the writing is so funny that the story is, in every way, a comedy. I laughed out loud throughout the entire play.

The ensemble in August: Osage County is flawless. Each of the 13 characters experience change and each actor takes us through that journey with biting realism. Also notable is the direction by Anna D. Shapiro. There is only one set, a big three-story house into which we can see seven rooms as if we're spying through the wall from the outside. Action takes place in all of these rooms and sometimes overlaps with a scene playing somewhere else. With 13 actors and constant conversations (some of which occur simultaneously), the choreography of the movement is precise and carefully calculated...I always knew where to focus but I was always interested in the other things happening.

The script is funny and fascinating and could probably just stand alone as a good read, but add to it a phenomenal cast and brilliant direction and you've got a real theatrical experience. I felt grateful that I was invited in to see this story's delicious voyeurism. And when I went into the lobby at intermission, I looked at the other audience members and felt like I was sharing something special with them. The overall experience this play provides is the reason live theatre is so powerful. When all of the facets come together so perfectly, it's an experience unlike any other.

And even more good news: you can get a ticket for $26.50. Sure, it's in the rear balcony, but it's a small enough theatre that it really doesn't matter. I saw the show from the nose-bleeds and I didn't miss a thing. It still felt intimate. If you can afford a better seat, go for it, but if you're low on funds, the $26.50 ticket option is a gift.

(August: Osage County is playing at the Imperial Theatre at 249 W. 45th between 7th and 8th. Tickets are around $100 to around $25. Shows: Tues@7:30pm, Wed@2pm and 7:30pm, Thurs-Fri@7:30, Sat@2pm and 8pm, Sun@3pm. For tickets call 212.239.6200 or stop by the box office.)