A small newspaper item about a murderous family in Florida sparked Tracy Letts’s distinguished playwriting career when he was only 26. “Some of the family members were plotting to kill a member of their family, only to change their minds and decide to kill another member of the family. We can understand someone getting their blood up to kill somebody—but to then change your mind about the person you’re going to kill, somebody not too troubled by notions of morality who could make a switch like that, that was the jumping-off point for me.” That first play, Killer Joe, to be published next month by the Theatre Communications Group, or TCG, features a dysfunctional Texas family where a debt-burdened character plots to hire a killer to off his mother so he can get a portion of the insurance money to pay off his debt.
The production gained more traction than the first-time playwright expected. He tells Show Daily, “I thought, ‘We’re going to perform it in Chicago, and it’s going to run for four weeks, and that will be that, and I hope I get a second production some day.’” It went on to be performed around the world in 15 countries in 12 languages, and was also made into a film in 2011, starring Matthew McConaughey, in which Letts wrote the screenplay.
Letts, the only Pulitzer Prize winner (for August: Osage County in 2008) to win a Tony award (for his performance in the 2013 revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), loves working in both the writing and acting worlds. “I’m constantly switching back and forth from one to the other, which keeps it all very fresh to me. I never get tired of my job.” He is also very modest about his awards. “I’ve worked hard at both for a long time, so the fact that I’ve been acknowledged for those things is very gratifying. At the same time, I view awards as encouragements: Hey, you’re doing a good job; keep up the good work!”
This is the actor and playwright’s first time at Book Expo. “I always breathe a little easier when I’m surrounded by book lovers,” he says. “I love books myself, and I love people who love to read.”
Letts will be signing copies of his play at the TCG booth (1104a) tomorrow, 1–2 p.m. Make sure to stop by the TCG booth during the first two days of the convention to enter a raffle by 2 p.m. on Friday, when two winners will be chosen to each get a pair of tickets to that night’s Broadway performance of The Realistic Joneses starring. Letts, along with Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, and Marisa Tomei. Winners must be present at the time of the raffle to claim the prize.