Tag Archives: Tracy Letts

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? – Review

Why in the world would a person willingly see a (three hour) play for the fourth time? How strong a suspicion would that viewer have of seeing something completely new? Very strong, 100 proof strong. From the very first sound (Martha’s gentle laughing off-stage) it was clear that this was a new George and Martha. Amy Morton and Tracy Letts, by way of Steppenwolf (and August Osage Country fame) are so very human that watching this production, directed by Pam MacKinnon is more akin to peeking in a window than looking at a stage.

Martha is often portrayed as a braying overtly sexual ball of venom. George is frequently placid and defeated. Ms. Morton & Mr. Letts have no interest in going down that road. When George refers to Martha’s party behavior as braying, her retort is barely in an outdoor voice. It’s then that we know this George and Martha are equally matched in their ferocity. Their words and manners, so natural and true, add a dimension to the rawness of their story, their marriage. Mr. Letts’ George is strong and knowing and funny. The treatment of Martha’s sensuality is an interesting interpretation. Many a Martha has climbed Nick as a boozy floozy in a too tight top. Ms. Morton seduces Nick in the least sexy of ways. She stumbles and clinically performs the seduction in a desperate attempt to have her husband respond. Nick’s interest is seen more clearly for what it is; ambition.

Nick and Honey, perfectly cast with Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon are far less naive and childlike than we’re accustomed. Nick holds his own amidst the incoming shells. Honey is young and quite tipsy, but very real and recognizable. The play motors along via free-range party games (Hump the Hostess, Bringing Up Baby, Get the Guests) as we discover what lies beneath. With the lower volume of this production we can really hear what is and what isn’t being said.

Ms. MacKinnon’s pacing and staging is fast and fluid. A magic trick of sorts results in the three acts rushing by as we simultaneously feel the characters’ building exhaustion. (This play should always been seen at night, preferably late at night.) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens at the Booth Theatre on the 50th anniversary of its premiere (October 13th.) This production is a poignant and powerful tribute to Edward Albee’s most popular play.

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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Superior Donuts – Review

It is simply delicious to see a new play and fabulous actors.  It is particularly fulfilling if the production in question is an ensemble piece.  That is indeed the case with Superior Donuts at the Music Box Theatre.  This new Tracy Letts (Pulitzer: August Osage County) comes directly from Steppenwolf and feels it.  The tight ensemble has packed up their focused and small production and plopped it onto Broadway.  The stage is even scaled down, with the help of blackout curtains to recreate the smallness.  The set is a donut shop in Chicago, seemingly untouched since Arthur’s (Michael McKean) parents purchased it fifty years ago.  The play opens with a suspicious break-in and the introduction of several of the 9 characters.  Shortly after the police leave (fabulously played by James Vincent Meredith and Kate Buddecke) we are introduced to Franco (Jon Michael Hill) who comes to work and change Arthur’s life.  Arthur is a frozen man, as the sound designer reminds us with accents of howling Chicago winds, and Franco thaws him.  We learn of Arthur’s story through spotlight monologues.  There are no surprises in this play, despite the audible gasps from the audience.  But Letts’ skill may very well be in the predictability of his story telling and how very satisfying it is to see the characters develop exactly as one would expect.  There are some very funny moments in this play that features ethnicity as its focal point.  Mr. Letts has great fun with his Russian stereotypes, his digs at the Polish and Irish, and goes to lengths to highlight the rich history of African American poets.  This conceit feels a little awkward, but perhaps it works well in Chicago.  (Personal aside, I’m never quite sure which ethnic groups are amusing to make fun of and which are not.) There is a wonderful actress, Jane Aldermann who plays the alcoholic as Yoda character, Lady.  While I found this character no more convincing than I ever do, Aldermann did, and it showed.  Much of the set design and direction did much to set the tone and move the story forwarded.  While it is always very difficult to stage a convincing fight scene, I must say that the actors were not helped by the harsh lighting.  I’m not sure that it can be helped in a donut shop with fluorescent lights.  Loving the performances as much as I did, I tried not to look too closely at the fake punches and foot stomping as sound effect.

Mr. Letts sat in front of me, as did several Broadway veterans.  Mr. Letts was no doubt pleased with the abundance of laughter and audible response throughout the two acts.  While the actors received a standing ovation (who doesn’t these days?) the curtain call was extremely brief, leaving the audience at somewhat of a loss.  If you love very fine acting, and do not abhor sentimentality, I recommend this play.  If you enjoyed August, not because of its scale but because of its content, you will enjoy Superior Donuts.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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