Right at home: setting the scene for the great American family drama

Like many of you who attended our production of August: Osage County in 2009, we were thrilled and excited to hear that this brilliant play by Tracy Letts is being made into a film. Needless to say, we’ve been keeping an eye on developments, including the casting of some of Hollywood’s biggest names (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, and Juliette Lewis to name a few), and the release date (scheduled for November this year).

One thing we were particularly curious to learn about was the setting of the film. The script for the play sets the scene in ‘a large country home outside Pawhuska Oklahoma’, which our Set Designer Dale Ferguson interpreted so memorably in 2009 with a vast split-level weatherboard home.

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Dale Ferguson’s set for MTC’s 2009 production of August: Osage County. Image: Jeff Busby

As it happens, the film will follow Tracy Letts’ script directions to the letter, with the shooting taking place in and around the towns of Pawhuska and Boulanger, Oklahoma, and most particularly at the Boulanger House (pictured below). An apparently serene home which, in the story, plays host to the release of so many tensions and tempers.

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The Boulanger House, part of the set for the film adaptation of August: Osage County. Image: Mike Simons/Tulsa World

August: Osage County is just one of a great many iconic American family dramas which centre around the home: from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (1947) and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night (1956), through to Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class (1978) and August Wilson’s Fences (1983)_. In the turbulent years since the September 11 attacks, a new generation of playwrights have rediscovered the family play, finding that sometimes the best way to talk about America is to bring the discussion home. The latest in this canon is Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, which is centred around a home as family members gather for a pivotal dicussion. But rather than August’s grand homestead in the American plains, Other Desert Cities is set in a luxurious Palm Springs home which, for our production, was designed by Callum Morton, based on the iconic Kauffman House.

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Callum Morton’s design for MTC’s 2013 production of Other Desert Cities. Image: Jeff Busby

Having only seen the exterior of the film set for August: Osage County so far, we’re very curious to see how the inside of the house has been portrayed. With production design by David Gropman (Life of Pi, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules), and set decoration by Nancy Haighs (Forrest Gump, No Country for Old Men, The Truman Show), the level of detail is sure to be first class.

What are your favourite American family dramas, on stage and screen? And how pivotal is the family home? We’d love to hear your thoughts – just drop a comment in the section below.

Other Desert Cities is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 17 April.

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