Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in drama as well as Tony Awards for best play and best actor, Tracy Letts has emerged as one of the greatest playwrights of the twenty-first century. Understanding Tracy Letts, the first book dedicated to his writing, is an introduction to his plays and an invitation to engage more deeply with his work—both for its emotional power and cultural commentary.
Experiencing a Tracy Letts play often feels akin to reading a Cormac McCarthy novel, watching a Cohen Brothers film, and seeing an episode of Breaking Bad at the same time. His characters can be ruthlessly cruel and funny, selfish and generous, delusional and incisive, and deceptive and painfully honest. They keep secrets. They harbor biases and misconceptions. And in their quest to find love and understanding, they often end up being the greatest impediments to their own happiness. As a writer, Letts can move seamlessly from the milieu of a Texas trailer park to the pulsating nightlife of London's countercultural scene, the stifling quiet of small-town Ohio to the racial tensions of urban Chicago. He thrives in the one-act format, in plays like Mary Page Marlow and The Minutes, as well as the epic scope of August: Osage County and Linda Vista. With a musician's sense of timing, Letts shifts between humor and heartache, silence and sound, and the mundane and the poetic. And he fearlessly tackles issues such as gender bias, racism, homophobia, and disability rights. Contemporary American life thus becomes a way to comment on the country's troubled history from Native American genocide to the civil rights movement. The personal narratives of his characters become gateways to the political.
Understanding Tracy Letts celebrates the range of Letts's writing, in part, by applying different critical approaches to his works. Whether through the lens of disability studies, the conspiracy genre, food studies, the feminist politics of quilting, or masculinity studies, these readings help bring out the thematic richness and sociopolitical dimensions of Letts's work.