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A Response to the Play
August: Osage County is a play by Tracy Letts. It tells a story of a mother and her three daughters that come to visit after their father disappears for five days. I chose to read this play because of its high acclaim among critics and a genuinely surprising amount of international adaptations. I believe that games that are so often adapted have some type of universal appeal that goes beyond cultural differences.
The play is also often referred to as a “dark comedy,” which is one of my favorite genres. However, after reading the game, I found it hard to see the comedic aspect of it. The events of the story are very dark, and despite the comedic tone of the dialogue in some scenes, the heaviness of the atmosphere prevents them from being funny. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the complex connections that characters have to each other, and the drama of the play elicits powerful emotions.
All of the main characters of the play end the story in a more or less miserable state of mind. Their lives are changed by this visit, and not in a positive way. One daughter’s fiancé tries to molest a young girl, but she chooses to ignore it, to remain in the illusion of happiness. Another daughter wanted to marry her cousin, but her mother reveals that her future husband is, in fact, her half-brother. She is shocked by the revelation but does not want her mother to ruin her life once more. Instead, she leaves, deciding to never tell her fiancé the truth. Such miserable resolutions to their stories made this play the most emotionally affecting out of all I have read during the course. This made me like the play, but it is unlikely that I would reread it.
The similarity in Sociopolitical Themes
Death of a Salesman is a play by Arthur Miller. Just like Letts’ play, it involves a family in a state of crisis. Both games have characters that are suffering from mental health issues that developed later in life. The theme of mental illness and the difficulty of confronting mentally ill members of the family are explored in different ways, but in both instances, it leads to unfortunate ends for them.
Violet, the mother of the family in Osage County, started slowly losing her mind after becoming addicted to prescription drugs. She is exceptionally irritable throughout the play and, at times, becomes unable to interact with others due to her condition. Her brain is damaged due to excessive use of prescription drugs, almost constant stress, and depression that she experiences. By the end of the play, her actions drive all of her family away, and she completely loses her grip on reality. The game uses the theme of mental issues to ask a question about the balance of caring for yourself or caring for the family.
The father of the family in Miller’s play also develops mental issues later in life. He becomes obsessed with the past and is bent on his sons achieving greatness, despite the impossibility of this dream. At multiple points, he becomes delusional and even sees a vision of his long-dead brother, which leads to his suicide. Mental illness leads to the family receiving money from Willy’s life insurance, but it does not bring them happiness. In both cases, mental illness changes the way that the characters live and creates a lot of stress for the characters.
The genre of the Play
The genre of the play is similar to that of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As I stated earlier, despite the indicated genre of the game is a dark comedy, its events put it distinctly into the tragedy category. The three sisters can be considered the protagonists in Letts’ story. While they are flawed, they are still motivated by the desire to help their mother in her time of need. They are admirable, but over the course of the play, their lives are ruined.
In the end, even the daughter that tried her best to assist her mother decides to leave her to die alone and delusional. Hamlet is likewise an admirable character whose life is ruined in his pursuit of revenge for his father. He commits immoral acts to fulfill his goal, and eventually he is almost unrecognizable by the end of the play, and no character escapes a miserable lot.
Style of the Play
The play is told in a realistic style, with the characters acting naturally and without unique elements. Additional detail is given to the connections that the characters have between each other. These connections serve to advance the plot in a variety of plays, from characters overhearing secrets or their past history leading to issues. John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable is also told with similar realism. Shanley deliberately uses a realistic setting to make the reader become immersed in the ambiguity of Father Flynn’s guilt. Both plays use realism to make the readers relate to the characters and focus their attention on the conflict.