Monday, April 7, 2008
A prize winner
Major congratulations to Chicago's Tracy Letts, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for August: Osage County. It's pretty exciting to think that I saw the play that won the Pulitzer, on Broadway, with its original cast. I feel particularly privileged to have seen it with the late Dennis Letts, the playwright's father, in the role of family patriarch Beverly Weston.
August: Osage County is simply one of the funniest, saddest, most wrenching, and most thrilling evenings I've had at the theatre. You may not recognize everyone in this dysfunctional family drama, but if you've ever been part of a family, you'll recognize someone.
Letts is a very witty writer who draws such vivid, complex characters and has some very pointed, biting observations about family relationships. I'm especially impressed with the way he examines the pressures that many women face, sandwiched between caring for their elderly parents and their children and themselves. And August has an amazing cast from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where Letts is an ensemble member, to bring his words to life.
I know this must be a bittersweet moment for Letts, his joy at winning the award tempered by sadness that his father, who died in February of lung cancer, isn't here to share it with him. The play is dedicated to his father. (He's also the son of writer Billie Letts, author of the bestelling 1995 novel Where the Heart Is, a sweet, wonderful book that's about as far in tone from August: Osage County as you can get.)
But apparently Dennis Letts, a former English professor turned actor, knew his son had written a prize-winning work. Tracy Letts told the Chicago Tribune today, "My dad was much more sure of this than me. He was telling me some months ago that this was a shoo-in. But I didn't believe him."
Here's what Joy Meads has to say about the honor on the Steppenwolf blog: "Many theaters might have balked at August’s ensemble of thirteen, and many audiences may have shied away from an unknown new play clocking in at three plus hours. Together, in the belief that innovation requires a little audacity, we took a chance and embraced this play."
Letts, in an interview with Associated Press theatre critic Michael Kuchwara, agrees that Steppenwolf is one of the very few places he could have gone with a play on the scale of August: Osage County. "We always look for opportunities to get members of our ensemble (which numbers more than two dozen) engaged in any given play. We are actor-driven."
Some elements of the play are loosely autobiographical, and Letts says that the idea for the drama had been rolling around in his head for years. "The stars aligned in the right way with the right actors and at the right time."
So, congratulations to Tracy Letts and everyone else at Steppenwolf. And a special hat tip to Steve on Broadway, who was an early and eloquent champion of the play after seeing it in Chicago - in August coincidentally! Steve, your review definitely convinced me to spend a few hours with the Weston clan in Osage County, Oklahoma, and I'm so glad I did.