Director Pam MacKinnon Thrives Being at Play with the Pulitzer Set

By Harry Haun
25 Aug 2012

Evan Jonigkeit and Hallie Foote
Photo by James Leynse

She lamented never knowing the late Foote — only the folksy denizens in Harrison, TX — but was happy to call Norris "a dear friend almost 20 years. When I read Clybourne Park, I was struck — in some respects, like Horton's plays — by these competing but necessarily balanced tones of something funny with something, as in Clybourne Park, ugly. And, in the first act of Clybourne Park, there's a real heartfelt tragedy in that family. To balance that with humor is tricky."

For that matter, for all the sturm und drang in Virginia Woolf, there's a silver lining of lightness, MacKinnon contended. "I think audiences will be amazed at how much they laugh," she said. "The marriage between George and Martha, between Tracy and Amy on stage, is a palpably complex relationship. With this production, we're really honoring the three-act structure. The fact that Act One is called Fun 'n' Games means that there's a real lightness to it. Then gradually, gradually, gradually, as the party starts to turn, layers are removed, and we find The Truth."

The author personally put up some signposts early on. "Edward came to Chicago early in rehearsal and gave us notes about shoring up the third act — and then came to DC shortly after it opened and just really had high praise for the production.


Carrie Coon in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
photo by Michael Brosilow

"He actually really loved our Nick and our Honey." This would be the new faculty member and his Mrs. who are "entertained" by George and Martha into the woozy wee small hours. They are played by Broadway newbies Madison Dirks, who got his Equity card with this gig, and Carrie Coon, whom one critic called the best drunk he had ever seen on stage or screen. She appeared in Letts' version of Three Sisters this summer at Steppenwolf.

"I think this will be the eighth Albee play I've directed and my 11th or 12th production," MacKinnon said. "Going back 11 years, I've directed two productions of The Play About the Baby, two productions of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Occupant, the world premiere of Peter and Jerry [now called At Home at the Zoo] as well as the New York premiere of it at Second Stage, a production of A Delicate Balance and now Virginia Woolf."

The three-stop process of bringing the play to Broadway by way of Chicago and Washington has benefited the performances, she felt. "It just got deeper as far as what the actors can bring to the table. It's so vivid, both in terms of being a three-act play and also just emotionally. It just keeps on revealing itself. We opened in Chicago really strong, and, in the interim, I went away and did Death of a Salesman while they were running it. Then, I came back, and especially Amy Morton had just grown roots as Martha, so, by the time we closed in Chicago, the range exceeded my expectations. Then, in DC, we took another step. It has been very gratifying."