BWW Reviews: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Repertory Philippines
by Ginnie Faustino-Galgana
Family. Relationships. Choices. Guilt.
If you think about it, these are the very same themes that prevail in Philippine entertainment -- with a slew of telenovelas and movies all focused on the drama that is the Filipino life. If you watch this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play by Tracy Letts, you could very well change the names and the language, and have yourself a very Filipino stage play -- complete with the slaps, screams, and family secrets. It gained critical acclaim when it opened in 2007, but would it push Filipinos toward the theater?
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is an American's perspective on life in the countryside. While most of us are thinking Americans are remiss in their family relationships, this play shows a very complex interaction among siblings, parents, and extended relations. Yes, very Filipino -- except maybe for the ending. Formula-Filipino-network stories would probably go another way in the end. What ending? Oh no spoilers, dear!
On one hand, Repertory Philippines (Rep), as usual, recreates the surreal world of Osage County with a collection of theater talents that are (quite literally) world-class. Baby Barredo as the deeply disturbed matriarch brought to life Violet Weston with her unapologetic stance. Pinky Amador, as the fiesty Barbara Fordham, matched this with an intensity and a weighty presence that you simply can't ignore, not that the other cast members did not carry their weight around. Richard Cunanan lightened the heavy moments just right as Charlie Aiken, while Hans Eckstein was so devilishly fiendish that you'd cheer when his Steve Heidenbrecht got hit with the pan.
On the other hand, there is the dialogue. Tracy Letts also does a very non-Filipino thing in this play: long character dialogues. The richness of the story laid within the lines. The conversations took the audience to reminiscences and plans and possibilities but stayed in the comfort of the family room of the Weston household.
Having seen the film adaptation released in December (featuring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch), I knew what to expect then. Still, it was a joy to see and hear the audience gasp, laugh, and be surprised at key points of the story. Of course, I couldn't help but compare the two productions, until I came to my senses. There is no point in comparing live theater to a film adaptation. The theater fills your senses, and you can't help but try to practically reach into the story that is unraveling right in front of you. Rep does this here.
Is it enough, though, to make people flock to see it? Only time will tell.
The characters of the story may be very American. The portrayal in this staging is also very American. Still, when you listen as the lines are delivered, there is barely a dull moment. They draw you into their lives and make you clutch on until the play goes into its inevitable end. It is an experience that cinema simply cannot mimic.
Is it worth watching? Yes, it is.
Rep's take on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning play AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, written by Tracy Letts ("Bug," "Killer Joe"), officially opened at Onstage Theatre (2F Greenbelt One Mall, Makati City) last Friday.. The production, directed by Chris Millado--his directing debut at Rep--will run until Sunday, March 16.