Sitting down in a dark theater for three hours seems daunting. We don’t do that anymore. We like things fast, quick.

Brian Allen is betting that audiences will pause their lives long enough to absorb America’s latest great new play, “August: Osage County.”

Good Theater opens its season tonight with the regional debut of the widely decorated play written by Tracy Letts. Over the course of three acts, it tells the story of a troubled Southern family called home by its matriarch, Violet, to deal with the crisis of her missing husband. He hasn’t been seen in five days.

As generations gather, the family’s dirty little secrets come spilling out. The play builds one ugly surprise on top of another until it crashes in a dramatic and depressing conclusion.

“August” is an exhausting and emotional experience.

Allen saw it on Broadway in 2008, and remembers that evening as the most rewarding night of theater he’s experienced in a long while.

“It’s a three-hour play, and it flew by,” said Allen, Good Theater’s artistic director and director of this show. “I was shocked when I looked at my watch and saw it was three hours later. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ “

Allen was not alone in his enthusiasm. “August” won all the major awards in 2009, including the Pulitzer Prize for best drama, the Tony Award for best play and numerous other honors. Good Theater is just the second regional theater company in the United States to win rights to produce the show.

Allen is working with a cast of 13, making this the largest show in Good Theater’s new season. It opens tonight at the St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center and runs through Nov. 7.

Part of the joy of this show for Allen is his ability to work with actors who are new to Good Theater, two of whom are Equity professionals — Cynthia Barnett and Michael Howard.

Howard is a well-known local actor, director and teacher, and is closely associated with Acorn Productions and Mad Horse Theatre Company.

Barnett, who lives most of the year in Charleston, S.C., is a founding member of Mad Horse. She lived year-round in Portland for almost 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s, and was active in local theater.

She and her husband moved away, first to New York and later to South Carolina. They live in Maine part-time these days, and “August” marks her first foray into local theater since her departure from Mad Horse. She plays Mattie Fae Aiken, Violet’s sister.

The rest of the cast consists of Lisa Stathoplos, Chris Horton, Kathleen Kimball, Mark Rubin, Emma Banks, Brent Askari, Amy Roche, Janice Gardner, Paul Drinan, David Branch and Kate Davis.

Barnett was lured back to Maine by the allure of “August.” Like Allen, she had to reorder her list of favorite plays after she saw it on Broadway.

“It will be in the annals of American classics as it gets older. It will go down in the annals of theater history as a great American classic, no question,” she said.

Barnett appreciates Letts’ writing, and that he managed to create a play with so many rich roles. There’s not a throwaway role among the 13, she said.

She also admires Allen’s courage for opening the season with a daunting show.

” ‘August’ is huge. Thirteen characters. Three acts. Two intermissions. It’s like an old-time play, when people actually went and sat for hours and watched live theater. After 90 minutes nowadays, people start getting cranky and want to leave. This is a huge, huge project.

“Brian should be commended for biting this off,” Bennett said, “just the moxie of going, ‘OK, we’re going to do this.’

“Really? Really? Are you insane?”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]