Tracy Letts

Definition

Theater

  • (1965 - ) US playwright and actor, who earned the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama on the strength of his epic family saga August: Osage County. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Letts grew up in a highly educated and artistic family (his father, an academic, later became a Broadway actor). He became a professional actor while still in his teens and since 1980 has been a member of Chicago's celebrated Steppenwolf company, which has cast him in mainly menacing or dangerous roles. In 1991 he also helped to found Bang Bang Spontaneous Theatre, a group of actors who for several years presented a weekly improvised show at a Chicago nightclub. Letts's first play, Killer Joe, received its premiere in Chicago in 1993. A brutal piece about a sleazy trailer-trash family who casually plot an act of homicide, the play was later seen in New York, London, and Edinburgh. This surprise hit was followed by Bug (1996), a bizarre play that might be characterized as a comedy thriller romance with elements of science fiction. Having become identified with the more visceral side of contemporary theater, Letts surprised many critics with Man From Nebraska (2003) - a quietly reflective piece about a middle-aged man undergoing a crisis of religious faith. The play is noted for its long silences, with some scenes containing only two or three lines of dialogue.

    Letts's reputation now rests almost entirely on his fourth play, August: Osage County, a sprawling, uproarious tale of family dysfunction that was premiered by the Steppenwolf company in 2007. In the play, which is well over three hours long and has 12 leading characters, three generations of the Weston family are thrown into turmoil following the disappearance of the patriarch, Beverly. Tensions boil over, secrets are revealed, and a stream of venomous invective is kept up by Violet, the monstrous drug-addled matriarch. The drama was widely hailed as a classic in the tradition of O'Neill and Tennessee Williams and went on to enjoy a successful run on Broadway, where it earned the Tony Award for Best Play. It has also been seen at London's National Theatre and in several European countries. In 2008 Letts surprised again when he followed this epic success with Superior Donuts - a modest, somewhat old-fashioned comedy set in a Chicago doughnut shop.

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