By James Cooper
Tony Award-winning playwright Tracy Letts will likely be nominated as Best Actor for his performance in the Steppenwolf Theater Company’s stunning revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Reviews of Letts’ performance in this 50th anniversary production of Edward Albee’s scalding domestic drama were extremely positive, describing it as his “electrifying Broadway debut.”
Letts’ portrayal of George differed markedly from those of Bill Irwin, Richard Burton and the original actor, Arthur Hill, described by the Times’ Charles Isherwood as having “coiled ferocity” and “spine-chilling viciousness.”
The Huffington Post called the production “astonishing,” and praised Letts for allowing years of pain and frustration “to seep out of a semi-broken man,” calling Letts “an actor at the top of his game.”
The Wall Street Journal praised Letts as “at least as impressive as Arthur Hill,” and applauded the horror the audience feels when they realize that George is not “playing for laughs but for blood.”
Tracy Letts is an actor and playwright who won a Tony for his 2007 black comedy “August: Osage County,” a play that focused on the dying days of an addicted woman and her eccentric hangers-on. The play followed a similar track to “The Lady of the Camellias,” which became the basis for “La Traviata.”
His 2009 play “Superior Donuts” was about a deteriorating Chicago doughnut shop run by a 1960’s radical and his energetic but troubled African American assistant, who wants to revitalize it. It played a limited four-month run on Broadway, closing in January of 2010.
Letts has worked with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company for the past dozen years as both an actor and a playwright. His plays are often premiered in Chicago before coming to New York. This production’s opening on Broadway was timed to be exactly 50 years after the original opening night, and playwright Edward Albee came onstage for a first night bow.
Letts has written five plays as well as an adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” His other plays include “Killer Joe,” “Bug” and “Man from Nebraska.”
His father was a college professor and actor, who may have informed his understanding of George. He was born in Tulsa, OK and grew up in Durant, OK and attended Durant High School. Clearly, he was able to use his childhood Oklahoma experiences in writing “August: Osage County,” which is set near Pawhuska, OK.
After moving to Dallas, Letts worked as a waiter and telemarketer and acted in plays as part of a series at Southern Methodist University. He moved to Chicago when he was 20 and began working at Steppenwolf.
Amy Morton, this play’s Martha, has worked regularly with Letts at Steppenwolf. Their familiarity increases the impact of this play’s “fun and games” ending in shattering discord when you realize that Martha, who appears brayingly dominant, has been nearly destroyed by Letts as George.
Letts is well regarded among both theater-goers and Tony voters for his two Broadway plays and his exceptional acting in this role. He stands a very good chance of getting the Tony for this incredible performance.
James Cooper is a freelance writer covering all things Theater and Fairfield County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.