Tracy Letts Is the Harried Married Man in Broadway's New Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

By Harry Haun
23 Sep 2012

Amy Morton and Tracy Letts
photo by Michael Brosilow
He does cut himself a little slack. "I think one of the things that happens is that you bring your own personality to any role that you play. It's an odd mix of the character you try on as well as the person you are. I'm sure that a lot of my personality comes out when I play George. Maybe, in that regard, I'm unusual casting, but it sure feels like a real relationship and a real marriage when I'm playing with Amy."

There's a reason: Morton and Letts are the Comden and Green of Chicago — teamed so many times they're taken for marrieds. "We counted it up not too long ago. It seems to me this is our eighth time as husband and wife. We've done it so often at Steppenwolf our theatregoers think we're a real couple. That's not the case. Amy's happily married, but we're close as friends and collaborators. Actually, we played husband and wife before we met — in a Dolly Parton movie [1992's Straight Talk] — and we had no scenes together."

Their first coupling with Woolf was at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre in 2004. Margo Skinner, who died a year later in production for Moonlight and Magnolias at Manhattan Theatre Club, was Martha to his George, and Morton directed the piece.

"Margo used to say it's more like a football game than a play. Sometimes it's 'Well, that play didn't go very well. Time for the next play. Sometimes you punt, and sometimes you score a touchdown.' It was my first time to do the show and her third. She said, 'If this is the kind of role you're suited for, you'll find yourself doing this more than once. Consider this your first stab at it, getting ready for the other productions you'll do in your life.' It turned out to be true. Eight years ago, I was a little too young for George. Now I'm pretty much the right age for the character, and those additional productions did help to prepare me to do it on Broadway."

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is Broadway's eternal battle royal. Without fail, George and Martha always make the Tony running (Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen in 1963, Ben Gazzara and Colleen Dewhurst in 1977, Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner in 2005). When Mike Nichols committed them to film, they were up for Oscars (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor). Sometimes they win (Hill, Hagen, Taylor, Irwin).

"Maybe we can break that streak," cracks Letts.

(This feature appears in the September 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)