Tracy Letts Likes ‘Mama’s Family’

Photo: Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times/Redux

Tracy Letts never expected 2007’s three-hour-plus August: Osage County to rake in Broadway cash—or a Pulitzer. But it was a major leap, and a deeply personal one: The playwright’s dying father starred in a role based on his own dad. Letts’s follow-up, Superior Donuts, is about a sad-sack Chicago doughnut-shop owner, and transfers from Steppenwolf to Broadway this fall.

Superior Donuts sounds a lot less personal than August.
It was supposed to be an exercise. I thought, I wonder if I can write about people that don’t have any relation to me. But I can’t! I was writing about myself.

Were you stung by critics who’ve said Donuts and August felt like sitcoms?
My father would get enraged when we would read reviews that compared it to Mama’s Family. But I said, “Dad, it’s time to consider that Mama’s Family is a lot fucking better than we thought.” It’s based on Tennessee Williams, right? The only thing wrong with Mama’s Family is the acting, the writing, and the directing.

I also hear that you’re adapting August for the screen. Do you have to cut it down?
That’s a fight with the producers now. I’m like, “You’ve seen this—you know it’s chock-full.” How long was Batman? I sat through that fucking thing for hours!

Was it easier adapting your play Bug?
I love Bug, but it had the worst marketing in the history of motion pictures. They decided to make it look like Saw or Hostel. So people who would have wanted to see Bug didn’t go, and people who wanted to see Saw went and hated it. They got on message boards and wrote, “This movie SUKKED!” Multiple reports of people shouting, throwing shit at the screen.

Superior Donuts
Music Box Theatre
In previews Sept. 16 for an Oct. 1 opening.

Tracy Letts Likes ‘Mama’s Family’