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THEATER REVIEW: Why all the fuss about award-winning “August: Osage County”?

I really wanted – and expected – to like (or even love) Tracy Letts’ highly touted, multiple award-winning “August: Osage County.” After all, it won five Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for 2008.

So I traveled to Los Angeles a few years ago to see it – and came home wondering what all the fuss is about.

What I saw then – and what I saw again a few days ago at The Old Globe – is an old-fashioned, three-act, three-plus-hour sitcom-cum-soap opera about a large and hugely dysfunctional family.

The dysfunctional family play isn’t an American invention (blame the Greeks for that), but 20th century American playwrights have certainly made hay with the genre. Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Neil Simon and Sam Shepard are a few who have jumped on the bandwagon.

Those influences are very much apparent in Letts’ sprawling entry, playing through June 12 under the direction of Sam Gold.

The Weston family is rife with drug abuse, alcoholism, child molesters, infidelity and suicide – you know, the typical American clan.

The plot grinds into motion when paterfamilias Beverly Weston (Robert Foxworth) hires young Native American Johnna Monevata (Kimberly Guerrero) to take care of Violet.

He then disappears, and the whole family descends to help out matriarch Violet (Lois Markle), a pill-popper extraordinaire so ticked off at life that she’s chosen to spend it either incoherently strung out or gleefully spewing the most hateful, obnoxious thing that comes to mind. (OK, she suffers from mouth cancer, but that doesn’t excuse such relentlessly boorish behavior.)

Violet’s youngest daughter Ivy (Carla Harting) is the one with the right to complain – still single, she has stayed at the family homestead in Pawhuska, Okla., and has taken her mother’s daily abuse for years.

Violet’s latest campaign is to get Ivy to make herself more attractive (“You look like a lesbian,” she says) and married off. Imagine her consternation when she learns that Ivy has her eye on her cousin Little Charles (Haynes Thigpen).

Arriving on the scene are Ivy’s married sisters Barbara Fordham (Angela Reed) and Mattie Fae Aiken (Robin Pearson Rose) and their respective families, and single sister Karen (Kelly McAndrew), bubbling over with uncharacteristic (and to Iris, unbearable) enthusiasm about the honeymoon she and her fiancé Steve Heidebrecht (Robert Maffia) are planning.

It’s a large, unwieldy cast (and I haven’t even mentioned the husbands or Barbara’s 14-year-old pothead Jean) in a big, dingy old three-level house, allowing several conversations (or instances of bad behavior) to go on simultaneously.

But mostly these people talk, talk, talk (and let it be said that Letts knows his way around a clever riposte). Plenty of unsavory revelations and revolting behavior are on view, but when it’s all over what you’re most likely to do is forget it – if you’re like me, almost immediately – and never think of it again.

Letts is one of my favorite playwrights, largely because he usually writes riveting characters. “Osage” is full of quirky and/or unpleasant folks, few likable, whose fates are difficult to care about.

Despite all the awards and locally fine acting and production values, “August: Osage County” is no more than an overlong sitcom with soap opera overtones.

The details

“August: Osage County” plays through June 12 at the Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 1 and 7 p.m.

For tickets call (619) 234-5623 or visit HERE.

i>To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.