The Edward Albee-Tracy Letts connection

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When the playwright-actor Tracy Letts and his longtime muse Amy Morton officially ignite George and Martha’s famous Fun and Games in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in Chicago this weekend, it will mark the first time a play by Edward Albee has appeared on the stage of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

“Not for lack of trying,” said Martha Lavey, the famously feisty Chicago’s company’s artistic director. “We approached Mr. Albee about this play many times.’

“I think,” said Letts, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “August: Osage County,” in a separate interview last week outside the rehearsal room where “Woolf” was being wrought, “that Mr. Albee was probably aware of Steppenwolf in its early days, with its reputation as a wild, rock ’n’ roll kind of theater and thought, ‘Well, that’s great, but not with one of my plays.’”

Sitting in that same rehearsal room the following day, Albee acknowledged the impasse and made reference to “Steppenwolf once wanting to do something naughty” with one of his plays. “But I can only hold a grudge,” the famously irascible playwright said, “for no more than 25 years.”


There would seem to be several causes for the great Albee-Steppenwolf thaw of 2010 — not least Steppenwolf’s decision to hire Pam MacKinnon, who is very high on Albee’s very short list of preferred American directors of his work and also the unusual presence of a fellow playwright in a leading role, one of the few playwrights whom Albee actually admires. Albee saw “August” — which he described as a “beautifully written, gold-solid, naturalistic play” — on Broadway.

And when Letts received an award in May 2008 (one of many the Pulitzer Prize-winning play received) from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Albee showed up to make the introduction. Letts says he was moved by Albee’s presence. “I told a story,” Letts recalled, “about my being a little kid at home in Oklahoma with my father’s copy of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and playing George.”

-- Chris Jones

Click here for the full Arts & Books article on the Letts-Albee connection