Mesa Encore Theatre's August: Osage County (the Play, Not the Movie) Is Subtle, Powerful
The setup: Tracy Letts' epic, relentlessly dismal yet moving and entertaining August: Osage County won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and came through Tempe on a national tour four years ago. Since then, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor have grown old enough to play middle-aged in the film version released last month.
Sarah Rodgers From left, Shari Watts and Nathalie Cadieux in August: Osage County
Nobody else is Meryl Streep, who's nominated for an Oscar for the challenging role of Violet Weston in the movie, but, putting that aside, Osage was created to be experienced as live stage work and is much more effective and satisfying that way, including at Mesa Encore Theatre for the rest of this weekend.
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The execution: Yes, there really are 13 characters in this show, and while three of them appear only briefly, they are as vital to the story as any of the others. The dispersed relatives of an alcoholic Oklahoma poet reunite at the family home in a time of crisis, and everything that's been simmering boils over.
The play is more than three hours long. That's not a terrible thing, but it's good to know ahead of time. Letts' mastery of dialogue, along with the uniformly excellent timing and dynamic variation of the cast, directed by Phillip Fazio (Ragtime, Next to Normal, Proof, Grey Gardens), keep things humming along.
Shari Watts (A Devil Inside, Sons of the Prophet, and lots of other good stuff) assays the role of Violet with a heartbreaking resignation that never quite masks her pain. Vi is one of the nastiest, most unpleasant characters in contemporary drama, and Letts cleverly gives her cancer and a crappy childhood to help the audience (let alone her family) tolerate her, but Watts would be able to sell her raging pill habit and torrent of insults anyway, because she's just that good.