Director Pam MacKinnon Thrives Being at Play with the Pulitzer Set

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25 Aug 2012

Pam MacKinnon
Pam MacKinnon
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tony Award-nominated director Pam MacKinnon talks about her brushes with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights of Clybourne Park, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Harrison, TX.


Director Pam MacKinnon has been toiling exclusively with the Pulitzer Prize pedigree since she joined this club two years ago by way of Clybourne Park.

Bruce Norris' pitch-black comedy about race and real estate in that Chicago suburb world-premiered Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons under her direction March 21, 2010, and will end its run on Broadway Sept. 2 at the Walter Kerr.

Separating this six-block transfer were sold-out, critically cheered runs in London and Los Angeles, the aforementioned Pulitzer and 2012's Tony Award for Best Play.

And through it all, the seven-member cast has stayed almost entirely intact. "It's really unusual that we kept the company together as long as we did," she noted. (The Off-Broadway/Broadway troupe did not play London.)

But directors, once their "work is done here," flit off in other directions, and MacKinnon has been conspicuously selective about where she landed, settling first on a Steppenwolf Theatre Company revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which didn't win the Pulitzer in 1962. The language that warring marrieds make "walking what's left of our wits" — practically quaint by today's standards — shocked the Pulitzer judges into total silence that year, but they subsequently snapped out of it and awarded Albee three of their make-up Pulitzer Prizes.


Christina Kirk and Frank Wood in Clybourne Park.
photo by Nathan Johnson

Starring in this Virginia Woolf, which will open at the Booth on its 50th anniversary Saturday, Oct. 13, is a Pulitzer Prize winner in his Broadway debut (Tracy Letts of August: Osage County acclaim), and a key, Tony-nominated player in that Letts drama (Amy Morton). While they rested on the ropes after their opening Chicago round, MacKinnon staged Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman at San Diego's Old Globe with the inestimable Jeffrey DeMunn. Then, she mounted a Woolf rematch with Letts and Morton for Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and, when they retired to their respective corners to rest up for Broadway, she put in time on Harrison, TX, an evening of three one-act plays by the late Pulitzer Prize winner, Horton Foote, now playing through Sept. 15 at 59E59 Theatres.

These three plays are her first Foote steps ever, "but I'm completely hooked," she confessed, and she's thankful for the added edge of having on board the playwright's daughter, Hallie Foote (a Tony contender and Richard Seff Award winner for Dividing the Estate). "She was an actor in two of the plays here, and I leaned on her a little more than maybe I would normally. Out of a cast of nine, three or four had done a number of Horton Foote plays before. And Jayne Houdyshell, who hails from small-town Kansas, said it felt very easy for her to slip into this rural ambience.

"We had a pretty long preview process, and we rehearsed throughout it. Every day, new stuff seemed to get revealed. What at times smacks of exposition can be really owned by these people because they're storytellers. Even if they've told the story before, they're telling it for a very emotional, grounded reason. It's rich material. The tones of the plays are so varied, so complicated. There's delicious ambiguity to go from a commedia kind of stock-character humor of Blind Date to something very violent and devastating in One-Armed Man, then combine the two in Midnight Caller. It's very good fare to have an evening like that."


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