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The Dresser: Discussion with Curt Columbus, Amy Morton, and Tracy Letts

by Curt Columbus, Amy Morton, and Tracy Letts

Amy Morton and Tracy Letts are friends. They might deny it if you asked them, but that's more of a reflection of their shared sense of humor than any reality. They've worked together many times over the years, as fellow actors in Three Days of Rain and as actor-director in Glengarry Glen Ross and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Alliance Theatre in Atlanta) and still enjoy working together. Associate Artistic Director Curt Columbus asked them to talk about The Dresser and their long association. This is what he got.... Curt Columbus: So, let's talk about The Dresser... Amy Morton: Could you ask Tracy the first question? CC: Sure. Tracy Letts: (laughs) Thanks a lot. CC: Tracy, you are going to be acting in this play that is highly entertaining. It's actually very funny, but it's also a play that is set during wartime. Do you think that has any resonance for the times we live in now? TL: No. CC: No? That's all you have to say? (laughter) AM: I told you. I told you what you were gonna get, and I was right. (laughs) CC: Amy, do you have any thoughts on this question? AM: Well, yes, because we're doing a play about theater during wartime, in a theater, during wartime. It seems cliché to say, "Theater is important in these times because it's uplifting." But maybe it's cliché, because clichés start out as some sort of truth. But I think that particularly in this play, there's a certain nobility about being determined to create art in the face of that sort of adversity. CC: Right. Tracy? TL: What she said. AM: (laughs) I told you. I told you. CC: What's it like to work together after all this time? TL: Oh my God! It's just terrible. (laughter) CC: You guys don't like each other at all, right? AM: No! TL: The advantage to working at Steppenwolf is that you not only get to work with great people, but you get to work with them over and over again. Which can be a disadvantage in some situations, obviously as with me and Amy. (laughter) The best part is that you establish a certain shorthand with the person and, as a result, get to the heart of the matter a little quicker. CC: When was the first time that you worked together? AM: The Dayroom.... TL: (overlapping) The Dayroom at Remains Theater. CC: Wow, The Dayroom, the Don DeLillo play, right? That's like a hundred years ago. TL: Thanks, Curt. AM: Thanks so much. TL: That's not a hundred years ago, it was — what — 10 years ago. AM: I guess next week we're going to be starring together in The Gin Game. (laughter) I also have to say, if you keep yourself open to the process, you get to know this other person in different ways each time you work with them. If you're wise enough not to assume that you know what they're going to do, it's great to be constantly surprised by someone you know very well. I think that's also why Steppenwolf has lasted so long — this group of actors is constantly renewing themselves in front of each other. CC: And in front of the audience, too. I think that's why people come back to Steppenwolf, to keep discovering these people again and again. AM: I heard that [critic] Kelly Kleiman did a piece on NPR entitled "The Graying of Steppenwolf," and how she went up to the ensemble picture at the end of the Downstairs lobby and decided we're all beginning to look like each other. (laughter) TL: You know how we've got these posters on the back of CTA buses with Malkovich's face? My girlfriend thought it was me. (laughter) AM: I'm ignoring you, Tracy. I guess this radio piece was about how our concerns are now the concerns of older people, that people complain we're not "edgy" anymore. My heart kind of broke when I heard this, because I do think that as artists we've grown so much, that there's a remarkable presence that the ensemble members have when they step onstage. TL: In any case, she got it wrong. It's not "The Graying of Steppenwolf," it's "The Balding of Steppenwolf." (laughter) But seriously, this play, more than any other that I've read in my life, makes me proud to be in the theater. The way it speaks to the tradition of the theater, and the rituals, and how those things are passed along. And I'll go Joe Namath on your ass — this is gonna be the best play we've ever done! AM: Oh, Jeez! Now you've done it, Tracy! Now it's going to be terrible. Talk about traditions of the theater, one of the traditions is not to call that kind of bad luck down on your head! That's worse than whistling in the theater, that's worse than saying the name of the Scottish play in the theater! TL: I guarantee it! (laughter) CC: If you're really gonna go all Joe Namath on my ass, I need you to wear some pantyhose. TL: Like I'm not! CC: Done and done, Tracy says, checked off the list. AM: And on that note....