07/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

CJ Meets Oprah and Doubts Her

"You worked as hard as us, you'd all be President," says Violet Weston over the dinner table, her fracturing family gathered in the hours after settling patriarch Beverly Weston in the Pawhuska, Oklahoma earth. Violet Weston, brought to us in her third incarnation from the beautiful mind of Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad, simmers within a pill-induced haze throughout her turn on her mother's throne, like a mile of highway through the back country in summer.

Self-drugged and slurring, it would be easy to lay the manias and madnesses of the Weston family at Violet's often stumbling, sometimes dancing, feet. But the question that stands -- at least in my mind -- shoulder to shoulder in Tracy Letts' towering play August: Osage County alongside the role of parents in shaping the destinies of their children, is the role of children in shaping the destinies of their parents: what are the child's responsibilities to her or his parents, not only in later life, but all along? "You worked as hard as us, you'd all be President."

"Guess who's sitting right across from us?" Mrs. Verna Shamblee, the eminence of my theater group, said during the play's first intermission.


"She has on a yellow sweater; her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. There: Oprah."

Then they brought out the smelling salts. For the many camera wielders we were smugly assured were tourists.

"And there's Gayle and, I think, Gayle's daughter."

"She just graduated from Stanford."

"They were very smart," Mrs. Shamblee said. "They didn't sell the seats directly behind them. But I think that woman farther down still tried to talk to Oprah."

"Is that what they did for the President (when he and the First Lady saw Joe Turner's Come and Gone)?"

"Oh, I think the entire row behind the President was Secret Service. When we saw Bill Clinton at the theater, everyone in the rows in front and behind him were Secret Service."

"Well, Oprah only has one bodyguard."

"Yeah, he's beautiful, too. He can handle it."

This year alone, Oprah Winfrey has poured millions into schools on the South Side of Chicago; in Atlanta; and in New Jersey. She's remained almost entirely mum about the money, which I would imagine her critics who would spend her dollars for her (why is she giving all that money to South Africa when there are kids right here in America who need her help?) are happy about.

"I bet they're taking Ms. Rashad to dinner after the play," I said.

"Oh, I'm sure," Mrs. Shamblee said. "Or, maybe she's on a school scouting trip."