Theatre: August: Osage County
Misery Loves Family.August: Osage County
is a play written by Tracy Letts, which premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 and was given a Broadway showing shortly thereafter. It won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize
The play tells the story of the Weston family, which is forced to reunite after the patriarch, once-famous poet Beverly Weston, turns up dead from suicide. It becomes apparent that Beverly's vindictive and pill-popping widow, Violet, has psychologically damaged each of their three middle-aged daughters, causing them to lead similarly self-destructive lives. After Beverly's funeral, what is meant to be a time of mourning for the Westons devolves into several weeks of pettiness, cruelty, and recrimination that destroys the family from within.
A film adaptation of the play, starring Meryl Streep
, Julia Roberts
, and an All-Star Cast
, was released on Christmas Day 2013.
This play provides examples of the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: Violet to her daughters. Mattie Fae to Little Charles. Barbara to Jean.
- Adult Fear: Jean almost getting molested by another family member (although Steve technically wasn't part of the family yet).
- The Alcoholic: Beverly and Violet are both alcoholics at the start of the play, though Violet's main addictions come from prescription drugs.
- Barbara becomes one after her husband and daughter leave her while the rest of the family collapses.
- Black Sheep: Before Beverly killed himself, Barbara had not visited her parents for several years. This did not help her already poor relationship with Violet.
- Big Damn Heroes: Johnna the housekeeper walks in on Steve molesting Jean and beats him off with a frying pan. In the film, Johanna overhears Steve trying to convince Jean to lift up her shirt in exchange for marijuana, though this is offscreen and the viewer is only shown Johanna's point of view. She attacks Steve with a shovel.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Westons, oh so very very much.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Ivy and Little Charles think they are Kissing Cousins. Thanks to Mattie Faye and Beverly, they're not.
- Building of Adventure: The action of the play is confined to a three-story rural house, which is built entirely on stage.
- Bumbling Dad: Charles and Bill are portrayed as incompetent, indecisive and weak-willed both as fathers and husbands.
- Control Freak: Barbara desperately tries to seize control of her mother's drug addiction, the decline of her marriage, and the impending self-destruction of her entire family. She fails at all three.
- Despair Event Horizon: Beverly's condition at the start of the play. Barbara's condition by the end.
- Dinner and a Show: One of the more bleak examples. The dramatic centerpiece of the play is the dinner following Beverly's funeral, which ends in a physical brawl between Barbara and Violet.
- Driven to Suicide: Beverly Weston. The play explores why he did it.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Barbara near the end of Act Three.
- Downer Ending: Karen learns that Steve is a sleazy pedophile but chooses to ignore the truth and marries him anyway; Ivy learns that she is actually half-siblings with her lover Little Charles but still chooses to run away with him to New York; Bill and Jean become fed up with Barbara's domineering behavior and leave her; Barbara ends up becoming an emotionally destitute drunk like her parents; Barbara, finally realizing just how far gone Violet is, leaves her to eventually die miserable and alone.
- In the film this becomes Lighter and Softer, if only by omission. Ivy is shown driving away by herself. Barbara is still left at the house, although no descent into alcoholism is shown. It is also left ambiguous what happens to Violet. The entire family has left at this point, though she is shown with housekeeper Johanna. Karen still marries Steve.
- Dysfunctional Family: See Dysfunction Junction below to get the nitty-gritty details of how and why.
- Dysfunction Junction: The Weston family in spades:
- Even before being Driven to Suicide, Beverly Weston was a failed poet and alcoholic who has crossed into the Despair Event Horizon over the state of his wife and family.
- Violet Weston is a pill-popping Abusive Parent and Manipulative Bitch who insults each of her family members and turns them against each other.
- Barbara Weston, Violet's oldest daughter, is a neurotic Control Freak who constantly tries to micromanage the chaos around her, from Violet's drug addiction to her own failing marriage.
- Ivy Weston, Violet's middle daughter, is planning to run away with her first cousin Little Charles Aiken, unaware that he is actually her half-brother.
- Karen Weston, Violet's youngest daughter, is obsessed with her wedding plans even in the midst of her father's funeral and chooses to live in denial when her "perfect" fiancÚ tries to molest her niece.
- Bill Fordham, Barbara's husband, slept with one of his students at the college where he taught.
- Jean Fordham, Barbara's daughter, is apathetic towards the rest of the family and shows more concern for watching Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on television than with attending Beverly's funeral.
- Mattie Faye Aiken, Violet's sister and Little Charles' mother, constantly puts down her son until her husband gives her the Reason You Suck treatment and his Brother-Sister Incest with Ivy is revealed.
- Evil Matriarch: You could reasonably argue that Violet was influenced by the drugs she took. But even after she was weaned off the drugs, Violet still revealed traumatizing secrets about her daughters to the rest of the family For the Evulz.
- Film of the Play: As noted above. There are some differences between the two.
- Freudian Excuse: It's hinted that the reason Barbara is such a Control Freak towards Bill and Jean, and the reason she did not speak to Beverly and Violet, was to avoid the toxic mayhem of the Weston household.
- Granola Girl: Jean.
- Ignored Epiphany: Twice. First, Karen tries to blame Jean for Steve's attempt to molest her and chooses to lie to herself over what he did, obsessed with getting a better life than the rest of her family and deluding herself into thinking a marriage to Steve will assure that. Then, Ivy learns from Violet that her first cousin Little Charles is actually her half-brother, but insists that she will still start a new life in New York with Little Charles without telling him the truth.
- Killed Offscreen: Beverly's fate is implied but left ambiguous until the end of Act One. Averted in the film, which shows him climbing into a boat as he prepares to drown himself.
- Kissing Cousins: Subverted. Ivy and Little Charles try to keep their relationship a secret because they are first cousins. It turns out later that Beverly was Little Charles' real father, making them half-siblings.
- Manipulative Bitch: Violet. And how.
- Meaningful Release Date: The film based on the play will be released on Christmas Day. Considering the subject matter and the Downer Ending, it's safe to assume that this was meant to be sarcastic.
- Moral Event Horizon: Violet reveals that she knew which motel Beverly stayed at before he drowned himself, meaning she was in a position to save her husband but chose not to. This persuades Barbara to leave her mother behind for good.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer for the Meryl Streep film adaptation makes Osage look like an upbeat family dramedy. Only someone who has seen the play would know how dark and depressing the story really is.
- Only Sane People: Johnna, Charles Aiken, and Sheriff Gilbeau.
- Plot-Triggering Death: Beverly's death gathers the family together and shortly after that all kinds of conflicts that had been seething under the surface erupt.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Plenty throughout:
- Violet delivers them to everyone, constantly.
- Charles gives one to Mattie Fae over her abusive treatment of Little Charles, threatening to leave her if she doesn't start treating him better.
- Bill gives one to Barbara after she slaps Jean during an argument, announcing that he and Jean are leaving the house and will not take Barbara with them.
- Screw Politeness, I'm A Senior!: With her giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech left and right, deserved or not, Violet epitomizes this trope.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Firmly on the side of cynicism.
- Stepford Smiler: Karen's endgame.
- Surprise Incest: Little Charles and Ivy, who were already Kissing Cousins, are revealed to be half-siblings.