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NY Theater Reviews

Estelle Parsons/PH: Joan Marcus

LONG HOT SUMMER

By MATT WINDMAN

The award-winning August: Osage County has some new players, including Estelle Parsons and Frank Wood. But audiences needn't worry: the show doesn't miss a beat.

It's hard to believe that exactly one year ago, no one knew anything about Tracy Letts' family tragicomedy-melodrama August: Osage County other than the handful of raves it received during its Chicago premiere. Here was a new, three-hour-plus play by a relatively unknown playwright with no celebs in the cast. And to make matters worse, its preview period was interrupted by the stagehands strike. How could it possibly survive?

Flash forward to the present. The play is not only a critical favorite that has received every award imaginable, but a popular hit too. In order to make way for the British tuner Billy Elliot, the show has moved from the Imperial next door to the far more intimate Music Box Theatre, where it resonates even better than before. And the bulk of the original cast has been replaced with equally strong performers including Estelle Parsons and Frank Wood.

Just in case you haven't seen it, let's go over the plot. It all begins with the sudden disappearance of family patriarch Beverly Weston, reluctantly forcing the rest of the Weston clan - daughters, in-laws, cousins, niece and all- to return to their rural Oklahoma home to comfort their unstable mother.

Once the dysfunctional pack returns, the mom's drug addiction forces them to confront a whole mess of other issues: cancer, suicide, incest, pedophilia, marijuana, alcoholism, depression, adultery, abuse, and anything else you can possibly imagine.

Compared with Deanna Dunagan, who played matriarch Violet Weston like a super-scary, unstoppable viper, Ms. Parsons tries to accentuate the comedy, playing her as more of a grumpy, silly critic who eagerly shoots insults at her family, but with a few hints of insecurity.

But the real revelation of a return visit is to August: Osage County is to relive Amy Morton's harrowing, multilayered performance as the eldest Weston daughter, who must directly confront the faults and flaws of her family until she reaches an absolute breaking point.

Not since Doubt, or perhaps Angels in America, has any non-musical emerged as such a blockbuster. Not only should you see August, you should demand more new plays of this caliber.