Monday, March 12, 2012


Adjectives are among the most potent tools a critic has. Particularly with the shrinkage of newspaper inches devoted to arts journalism, other tools like the elaborate metaphor or the perceptive historical parallel don’t get used nearly as often.

In his review of “August: Osage County” (link on the right), Mr. Griset at Style used the following four adjectives in one of his concluding sentences: Intense, angry, epic and devastating. This is the kind of show that prompts such an overflow of superlatives. After I saw it this past Saturday, the word that seemed most appropriate to me was ‘staggering.’ Thanks to the incredible writing by Tracy Letts, time spent with the Weston family is never boring but often brutal. Many of the revelations and interactions are pretty staggering but so are the biting intrusions of humor that, as an audience member, have you reeling back and forth between elation and despair. For people (like me) who like shows that are like roller coasters, it was exhilarating.

Of course, Keri Wormald needs to be singled out for putting this whole thing together and the set by Phil Hayes was particularly impressive. There are marquee roles here: Melissa Johnston Price is magnificent as Barb and Melanie Richards does fine work as Violet. The show is so stuffed with great performances, however, that pulling out favorites simply isn’t possible. One minute, Katie McCall is amazing, the next minute Gordon Bass impresses. Jodie Smith Strickler commands the stage, then Karen Stanley demands attention for completely different reasons.

But since plenty of praise had been handed out related to this production, I want to recognize two possibly less obvious components that really enhanced my enjoyment of the show. One was the quiet but still extraordinary performance by Carolyn Meade as Johnna. She is like the calm in the midst of the storm, a slice of relative normalcy that makes the madness around her all the more affecting. She also communicates as much in her sharp look in response to the word “costumes” as some actors do in a whole soliloquy.

And lastly, the original music by Steve Organ both sets the stage for the action and provides welcome respite during the intermissions. It helps establish a somewhat rural Gothic vibe and is just plain good stuff to listen to.

In addition to the obvious emotional and comic gifts the show provides thanks to its epic story and fantastic writing, it also leaves you with one last one: no matter how messed up your life seems, you can be thankful you are not one of the Westons.

One last note: since this is an online forum of sorts that you are reading right now, you might be interested in the opinions of one leading tech innovator on the role of comments. In the past there has been wrangling about comments left here or on the Style site. You can tell from this article that these kinds of issues are being debated all over the place, with no real clear ideas about what to do to improve the situation. If you have any ideas, please feel free to comment!


Susie said...

Heard a piece on "On the Media" about this topic, and it mentioned The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates as a writer and blogger who devotes a lot of time and effort to moderating and maintaining his community of online commenters. I've subscribed to his blog since then--wide-ranging and fun to read--and his commenters are intelligent and on point (he really does weed out haters, ad hominem attacks, etc.). I can recommend it!

Dave T said...

Thanks, Susie! I'll have to check him out (I also love "On the Media" but haven't added it to my podcast list. Think I need to!)