August Osage County Summary

Tracy Letts

August Osage County

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August Osage County Summary

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August: Osage County is a black comedy by American playwright Tracy Letts. First staged at the Steppenwolf Theater in June 2007, it went on to a 648-performance run on Broadway, eventuallywinning the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Play. It is also the winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Centering on a tense family reunion in a small Oklahoma town, the play is dominated by Violet Weston, an eccentric family matriarch who has a contentious relationship with her husband and children. When a family tragedy brings all the survivors together again, old wounds and hurts are reopened as the family is forced to confront its past and presence. Set during several weeks in August, the play exploresthemes of family, secrets, and small-town Americana in an unflinching tone, August: Osage County is considered the defining work of Letts’career and one of the best modern American plays. It has been staged around the world and in 2013 was adapted into a star-studded feature film including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both of whom received Academy Award nominations.

The play opens with Beverly Weston, a once-famous poet, interviewing a young Cheyenne woman named Johnna for a job. Beverly is seeking a caregiver for his wife, Violet, who is being treated for mouth cancer. Violet, a heavy smoker, is addicted to multiple prescription drugs and is behaving more and more erratically. Beverly, who admits to being an alcoholic, converses freely with Johnna about Violet’s problems until Violet enters. The two have a brief argument, Violet goes upstairs, and Beverly hires Johnna and returns to his drink as the prologue ends.

Act One opens a month later. Beverly’s been missing for several weeks. Family members have gathered in the house, including Violet’s daughter Ivy, her sister Mattie Fae, and Mattie Fae’s husband Charlie. When Violet isn’t trying to track down her husband, she’s picking fights with her family, especially the perpetually single Ivy. The family gets word that Beverly’s boat has been found abandoned, and everyone fears he’s committed suicide. Ivy’s older sister Barbara arrives with her husband Bill and her teenage daughter Jean. Barbara hasn’t seen her mother in years and is less than thrilled to be back home. Violet quickly picks a fight and accuses Barbara of abandoning the family and breaking her father’s heart. Jean bonds with Johnna over some marijuana and tells Johnna that her parents are separated but haven’t told anyone yet. Bill and Barbara argue before they head to bed, and it turns out Bill is sleeping with one of his students. At 5 AM, Sheriff Deon Gilbeau—Barbara’s ex boyfriend—rings the doorbell and reveals that Beverly’s body has been found drowned. Violet is too drugged to go identify the body, so Barbara goes.

In Act Two, the family arrives home from Beverly’s funeral. Violet goes to her husband’s office and yells at him about his recent abuse of prescription drugs. Before Johnna can prepare dinner, more arguments errupt. The third sister, Karen, arrives with her new fiancée, and her chipper attitude about her upcoming wedding unnerves Barbara. Ivy reveals that she’s seeing someone but refuses to say who, while Mattie Fae and her husband bicker over how to parent their inconsiderate son Little Charles, who overslept and missed the funeral. Karen’s fiancée Steve finds out that Jean smokes pot and offers her some of his, lewdly flirting with the teenager. It is revealed that Ivy is actually involved with her cousin, Little Charles. At dinner, Violet begins needling and insulting all her family members. She discusses Beverly’s will at the table, then reveals Barbara and Bill’s separation to the whole family. When Barbara yells at her, Violet justifies herself by revealing her addiction. This devolves into a physical fight between mother and daughter, and Barbara orders the family to raid the house to find Violet’s pills.

In Act Three, the three sisters have a drink and discuss the drama. Barbara says that Violet’s doctor thinks she has brain damage and Ivy reveals that she and Little Charles are planning to run away to New York. Violet enters. She says she’s resigned to facing death and apologizes to her daughter, creating a temporary peace. Charlie loses his patience with Mattie Fae over her consistently cruel behavior towards Little Charles and threatens to leave her unless she changes. Barbara lets the affair between the two cousins slip, but is shocked when Mattie Fae reveals that Little Charles is not Charlie’s son, but Beverly’s, the product of an old affair. Ivy and Little Charles are half-siblings, and everyone realizes they need to find a way to end the affair. That night, while Steve and Jean share a joint, he attempts to molest her. Johnna sees this and attacks Steve with a shovel. Jean angrily lashes out at her parents about her father’s affair, and Barbara slaps her. Karen refuses to believe what Johnna saw and leaves with Steve, while Bill decides to leave with Jean. He tells Barbara he wants a divorce. Two weeks later, Barbara is still staying with Violet and now drinking heavily herself. When Officer Gilbeau drops by with more news about her father’s case, he and Barbara briefly reconnect, but nothing comes of it. Ivy has dinner with Barbara and Violet and tries to tell her mother about her affair with Little Charles. Violet reveals their family connection, and Ivy is horrified. She decides to never tell Little Charles and leaves for New York without him. The play ends with one last nasty confrontation between Barbara and Violet. Violet blames Barbara for Beverly’s suicide. Having finally had enough, Barbara realizes her mother is beyond help and leaves. The play ends with Violet and Johnna alone in the house.

Tracy Letts is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He won the Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County.  In addition, he won a Tony award for acting for his role as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2013. He has written screenplays for three films, including two collaborations with director William Friedkin. He is also known for his role as Senator Andrew Lockhart on Showtime’s Homeland, for which he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award along with the rest of the cast.