PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Amy Morton, the Voracious Martha of Broadway's Virginia Woolf

News   PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Amy Morton, the Voracious Martha of Broadway's Virginia Woolf
Amy Morton, a Tony nominee for August: Osage County, talks about seeing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from both sides now — as current actress on Broadway and past director, regionally.

Amy Morton
Amy Morton


Chicago-based actress Amy Morton doesn't work in New York often, but when she does, she takes the town by storm. Five seasons ago, Morton starred in Tracy Letts' sprawling, triple-decker, family nightmare August: Osage County as Barbara, the take-charge daughter of monstrous mother Violet. Her fiery performance ("I'm running things now!") earned her a Tony Award nomination. She was also Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Now she's back on Broadway (her third Steppenwolf Theatre Company vehicle here) in the latest revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This time, Letts is not her playwright, but her co-star, playing George to her Martha. Morton knows the play — and Letts' approach to it — very well: She directed him in it several years ago in Atlanta. An all-business performer who doesn't go in for the glamour aspects of the stage, Morton spoke directly and to the point in her talk with

The last time we spoke you were doing August: Osage County and you talked about living the life of a nun in order to do the play. I imagine that's true for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as well.
Amy Morton: Yes it is. I sleep as late as possible. I eat a lot of protein. I don't do much during the day because it's all about preserving energy.

You have directed this play as well.
AM: In Atlanta.

I assume it's a very different play approaching the material from those two different vantage points, as a director and as an actor.
AM: Yes, yes it is. Directing, you have that full picture you have to keep in your head. With this production, you just have that one track. I have to say, acting it is harder. [Laughs.] Having directed it before, did you have information about Martha that you wouldn't have had otherwise as an actress?
AM: Probably, but I don't know what specifically. I walked into rehearsal being very familiar with the play, which is always helpful. Other than that, I don't know.

Morton in Virginia Woolf.
photo by Michael Brosilow

Obviously, you saw Tracy play George in Atlanta. Is his performance here similar to that or different?
AM: I think it's different because it's a different Martha for him. You're always tailoring your performance based on who you're playing opposite. I can't tell you how. I'm not particularly objective, because I'm in it.

When did you first encounter the text, in any form — movie, production, script?
AM: I think I was about 10 or 11 and I watched the movie on TV.

What impression did you have?
AM: I was really fascinated. I didn't grasp half of it, but I was really fascinated by it. I thought it was kind of eerie, and "Why are these people so weird?" But I really liked it. I remember being captivated by it.

I've seen a few productions of the play. The language in the play is quite theatrical, somewhat stylized to a certain extent. To me, it seemed that you and Tracy made the dialogue sound much more colloquial and conversational than in any previous production I've seen. Martha and George just seem to be talking. It's very natural. 
AM: I don't mean this to sound braggadocio, but that's sort of what we do. I don't know how to do it a different way. I approached it like I do any play. I approached it like it was a new play. If you have any of those iconic performances in your mind, you'll go crazy. And it's so hard to do; the play is long and strenuous. So, you're very busy early on trying to figure out how to do it, so you don't really think about anyone else's portrayal. You have to make sense of it for yourself, if you're going to make sense of it for an audience. We very much talked about this in terms of psychological realism; the history of this relationship and where they are now. We approached it very realistically.

Morton and Tracy Letts in Virginia Woolf.
Photo by Michael Brosilow

A conventional piece of wisdom often applied to this play is, by the end of the action, it's actually George and Martha who have the marriage that will endure, and Nick and Honey's union is on its way to dissolution. Do you agree with that?
AM: Yeah. I agree it's the stronger relationship. I made this crack the other day in rehearsal. The play takes place in 1962. So by 1972, Honey will by 36. So she'll be screaming into the women's movement. She'll have left Nick in the dust.

She'll have had different options than Martha had in the 1940s and 1950s.
AM: Yeah.

Martha is actually offstage a fair amount of the time, tending to Honey when she's sick; seducing Nick.
AM: I wouldn't say "a fair amount." I could use more time. [Laughs.] But, no, Tracy definitely has the largest load in this play. He leaves the stage only once.

This is your third visit to Broadway. Does the experience seem different with each time?
AM: Yes and no. Broadway is kind of steeped in tradition, so some things don't change, which is really sort of great. But, you know, I'm also older. This play is a completely different journey than the other two I did on Broadway, and it's a different house. So, yeah, it's different. But I love the fact that some things don't change on Broadway.

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