Tracy Letts (George) is an ensemble member and Artistic Associate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. He last appeared at Yale Repertory Theatre in The Realistic Joneses, by Will Eno. Previous Steppenwolf credits include Penelope, American Buffalo (also the McCarter), Betrayal, The Pillowman, The Pain and the Itch, The Dresser, Homebody/Kabul, The Dazzle, Glengarry Glen Ross (also in Dublin and Toronto), Three Days of Rain, many others. Other Chicago credits include Bouncers and Fun & Nobody (Next Lab), ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (A Red Orchid Theatre), Conquest of the South Pole (Famous Door), many others. His only previous New York stage appearance was in Orson’s Shadow at the Barrow Street Theatre. As a playwright, Mr. Letts is the author of Killer Joe, Bug, Man From Nebraska (Pulitzer finalist), August: Osage County (Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award for Best Play), and Superior Donuts.
Interview by Andy S. Drachenberg
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ is a three act, high tension production. How do you prepare for it?
The roles were written for middle aged people so you have to be conscientious about the way you treat yourself in order to perform seven times a week. I concentrate on my physical maintenance by eating well, exercising, sleeping later into the day so I have energy for the show that night.
Malcolm Ewen, the production’s stage manager, recentlymentioned rhythm in theater in his weekly Stage Manager Report series. Have you noticed a similar quality?
Yes, you feel that any time you do theater. Theater actors really respond to the regimented schedule. We had a couple of shows canceled in Chicago in the past due to blizzards and it really throws everyone off. The hurricane cancelled one Woolf performances at the beginning of the week and it definitely affected the rhythm of our matinee that Wednesday. We were lucky compared to what other people were going through at that time, but it does affect everyone.
You have played George in multiple productions. Has the character transformed for you with each production?
The first time I played George in Atlanta, I performed with an actress named Margo Skinner who was playing Martha. It was her third time playing Martha and my first time playing George. I was very nervous at the beginning and she told me, “If you are suited for a role, you will play it more than once. Therefore, you should look at this as just your first time through this.” It was great advice, since, as an actor, you never feel like you’re done with a character or production. There’s always something more to explore in a production, and George is particularly complicated and mysterious. He has a lot of ambiguity and has a lot of sides. He has definitely changed for me over the course of my life. The first time I did it, I was 38 or 39 and was young for the part. Now, I am the age that Albee calls for the character. Since then, I have changed. So, in turn, George has changed.
What helped you initially get to know George?
Well, Pam [McKinnon] is very gifted and patient as a director. While there are ambiguities in the script (and therefore my obligation to present them as ambiguities to the audience but I have to answer those questions for myself), Pam has been very good at helping me through that. My standby- Tony Ward, is learning the role right now and has asked me to help answer a few of the questions. I was really surprised that I had all of the answers at hand. I told him the decisions that I had made and that has simplified the performance for me.
One of America’s most acclaimed theatre ensembles takes on one of the greatest plays of the 20th century: the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? comes to Broadway to celebrate the play’s 50th anniversary.