Monday, 2 November 2009

Letts' August: Osage County at Vienna's Akademie

Tracy Letts' August: Osage County performed under its German title Eine Familie (a family) is now to be seen at Vienna's Akademietheater.

August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama award-winning play, is something not to be missed; especially recommended for Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee aficionados.

T S Eliot's poem The Hollow Men is the hook from which the more than 4-hour long play, directed by Alvis Hermanis, and three generations of the Weston family will have to hang until death us do part.

Beverly Weston, the family patriarch, opens the first scene ensconced in his favourite chair, a battered and worn leather chair with the filling bursting out of the splits, and recites and repeats the famous Eliot line: Life is very long. He bemoans the fact that his wife is a pill-popper and reflects that he is a worn-out alcoholic and a poet with nothing more to say.

Unfortunately actor Michael König was a shade too quiet in his musings and reflections. At times I struggled to hear him. And this is an important monologue and should be clearly heard for the play, as the audience will anticipate, must come full circle and end with another character sitting in the battered and torn old chair.

The life of the drunken poet is soon at an end. Other characters invade the stage on which a complete little house on the prairie with 7 claustrophobic rooms has been constructed.

The strongest and best performance, in fact it's a truly amazing performance, is that of Dörte Lyssewski who plays Barbara Fordham, one of the poet's 3 daughters. Another strong piece of acting, as always, from Kirsten Dene who plays the chain-smoking drugged-to-the-eyeballs family matriarch Violet Weston. It was lovely to see Dorothee Hartinger back on the stage after her period of maternity leave. She's a fine actress with a refreshingly clear and audible articulation.

Lines from The Hollow Men serve to describe role of the long-suffering and ineffective males caught-up in the Weston family tragedy:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

The family maid Johnna Monevata (Anna Starzinger) is the only one who keeps her head when all around, as the saying goes, are losing theirs. Insults and crockery fly through the air at the poet's wake and from then on everything runs quickly downhill. The family skeletons, the bloodline secrets, all is dragged from the closets. Will the family fall to pieces like the poet's old chair and will it all end as Eliot's poem ends?

Not with a bang but a whimper.

As one might expect, it was all too much for some of the audience who wandered away during the two intervals, perhaps to deal with family dramas of their own. For those of us who remained to witness the play's bitter-sweet ending it was a theatrical moment to savour.

With this play Letts joins the icons Albee and Williams in the fine tradition of an American theatre that scrutinizes closely the American dream and investigates exactly where it's going and where it's going wrong.


  1. I had not heard of this Poet, but many moons ago I did my thesis on Albee and The American Dream - I thought the whole thing had gone rather "out of fashion" but seems I may have been wrong. The Hollow Men is one of Eliot's best poems (for me at any rate)

  2. Weaver, I suspect the idea of theatre and films examining the idea of the so-called American Dream is back in fashion, to use your phrase, because of the financial crash and many people losing their homes and jobs.
    In contrast, I think vain-glorious all-American action man movies may soon be out of fashion.

  3. I forgot to say yes, I also like the Hollow Men. But I must add that I'm not so keen on TSE's later quasi-religious outpourings. I prefer to leave that side of poetry to the likes of R S Thomas. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is I think my favourite TSE.


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