03/13/2008 03:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

August: Osage County : Madness from The Plains

- Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

"Life is very long, " the family's patriarch says and so begins the Tracy Letts' play August: Osage County, now running through April 29 at the Imperial Theatre (then to the Music Box through July 6). Beverly Weston, this family's patriarch, is quoting T.S. Eliot and is in the midst of hiring a live-in housekeeper as the play opens. Johnna, the American Indian, is hired and his last words after this exchange is more T.S. Eliot, "Here we go round the prickly pear, prickly pear prickly pear." Oh boy, he's got that right.

The play crashes and careens around the lives of this family living outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma, 60 miles northwest of Tulsa. From the pill-popping mother to the three daughters each with their own dark secrets, it's a play where the women take center stage. Deanna Dunagan as Violet Weston, the family's drug-addled matriarch, is fantastic. She's a mix of Martha from Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf with a dash of Blanche Dubois and a healthy dosage of Violet Venable from Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer. Deanna Dunagan plays the part to perfection and is a force to be reckoned with on stage. Amy Morton, who plays the eldest daughter, Barbara, is also unstoppable in her performance as a woman who's marriage is falling apart as she returns to her childhood home. All the actors are superb in this, as you probably have to be to join the Steppenwolf Theater Company.

Tracy Letts, the playwright, mixes comedy with tragedy so skillfully that you almost have to think twice when you hear "He killed himself" delivered as a punch line. He credits his influences to Mr. Williams along with the novels of William Faulkner and Jim Thompson. His writing in this play is fantastic. I'm sure the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer will be calling soon for these actors and Mr. Letts.

I was able to get a $25 ticket ($36 after all those crazy surcharges) and sat in the very back row of the mezzanine last Sunday. You sure couldn't bake a souffle up there, but it was perfect. I could hear and see everything plus I paid a third of what others paid and saw with a partial view. Be aware that some of the action takes place on the third story of this country house set and if you are sitting in the rear orchestra you'll miss some of it. The play is 3 1/2 hours long with two intermissions. I know that sounds like a lot, but I could have stayed for another 3 1/2 as I watched this American family come unglued. August: Osage County is not be missed in my opinion.