They say that weddings and funerals are just about the only events left that still bring families together. During these occasions stories are told, memories are evoked and deep secrets are sometimes revealed. Yet, however dysfunctional your own family may be, nothing can prepare you for the closet-raiding, skeleton-exposing, emotional bile-spewing witnessed in Tracy Letts' multi-award-winning play.
This may also be your last opportunity to catch Steppenwolf Theatre's production of this darkly comic drama. The National Tour, which originated at the famous Chicago theater company three years ago, took Broadway by storm when it won the 2008 Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, NY Drama Critics' and the Outer Critics' Circle Awards for Best Play, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Rumor has it that Letts' play will soon hit the silver screen, but that experience can't compare with seeing this drama live, in its original staging by Tony-winning director Anna B. Shapiro and played upon Todd Rosenthal's impressive, award-winning three-story set.
Within this three-act play (including a tone-setting, informative prologue), a family's patriarch suddenly, mysteriously vanishes. Upon his disappearance, issues surface, such as drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, sexual harassment, pedophilia, aging, racism, incest, infidelity and - ultimately - loving and forgiveness. Not since Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" has a play exploded upon stage with so much physical and emotional tension, humor and dramatic gymnastics.
In true Steppenwolf fashion, this cast defines ensemble acting; however television, stage and film veteran Estelle Parsons absolutely owns the stage as clan matriarch, Violet Weston. One minute she's screaming at her family, "I am a drug addict. You see these little blue babies? They're my best friends and they never let me down. Try to get 'em away from me and I'll eat you alive!" The next minute she's quietly defending her bad-tempered behavior with, "My momma was a nasty, mean old lady. I suppose thatís where I get it from."
Parsons drives this emotional roller-coaster ride but she's supported by each and every member of this company. Shannon Cochran as eldest daughter Barbara is magnificent, especially when she takes charge at the end of act II, offering dramatic proof that at some point we all eventually turn into our parents. Angelica Torn and Amy Warren as daughters Ivy and Karen each have their own shining moments and ultimately go out in a blaze of glory.
Tracy Letts' poignant, emotionally raw, autobiographical drama offers much unpredictable laughter, but by the final scene, after the smoke clears away, you will find a few tears have trickled down your cheek. This production should not be missed because it may never come this way again with such force and perfection.
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