Tracy Letts is one of the most talented people in American theater today. His play August, Osage County, about a southern family thrown into crisis, won the Pulitzer Prize. Letts is also an acclaimed actor starring in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Letts plays George, a frustrated history professor married to the college president's daughter, Martha (Amy Morton). The pair invites a new young faculty couple over for drinks, and as the hour gets later and the drinks stiffer, George and Martha's marital woes play out with legendary ferocity. But Letts believes that the play's heart is a love story. "In some ways, that's the secret of the success of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the fact that they're in love," Letts tells Kurt Andersen. "If they're just at war, then they're just a cartoon. There's more at stake than that."
Letts even suspects that marrieds in the audience might be envious of the relationship: "'Put down the remote control and come fight with me. Get yourself out of your stupor'…They're alive and engaged with each other."
While Letts has been on stage, filming just wrapped on his movie adaptation of August, Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Ewan McGregor. Because he was busy on Broadway during the filming, he couldn't be on set as he has with previous screenplays. He's bracing himself for disappointment. "The playwright is the final arbiter in the theater – at Steppenwolf [Theater, in Chicago], that hierarchy is absolutely in place. In the movie world, the writer is pretty low on the totem pole," he tells Kurt. "Yes, it is definitely a question of how dissatisfied I will be. But I have high hopes."
Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Michael Brosilow)
Audio from the play via The Arena Stage