The professional and the personal don’t always complement each other, but when they do, the combination can be potent. Consider director Anna D. Shapiro’s long-standing bond with playwright Tracy Letts, whom she first knew as an actor. Their association veered toward lasting fame recently with “August: Osage Country,” Letts’ darkly comic drama of a dysfunctional family at the breaking point, which Shapiro directed to rave reviews at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater as prelude to a Broadway run distinguished by a Pulitzer Prize and a clutch of Tonys, including best play and best director –and this for Shapiro’s Rialto debut.
But Shapiro’s professional relationship with Letts wasn’t necessarily destined for such success. “The first of his plays that he showed me was ‘Killer Joe,'” recalls Shapiro, referring to one of Letts’ Grand Guignol early works. “In those days, a woman being fellated by a chicken leg was not something I was interested in.”
Nevertheless, “August’s” almost freakish success surprised the director. “I’m still a bit amazed how it touched people,” she admits. “I was initially suspicious of its mass acceptance, so I spent a little time thinking that I’d directed the theatrical version of ‘American Idol.’ But I got over that. ”
This fall, Letts, Shapiro and most of “August’s” original cast will journey to London’s National Theater to learn whether the play resonates across the Pond. After that, Shapiro heads back to Chicago for some new challenges, including a production of Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” at the Lookingglass Theater and a new play — “Magnolia” — by actress Regina Taylor at the Goodman. “It doesn’t work timewise,” says Shapiro, “but I don’t care. I’m a big fan, so I’m going to figure it out.”
Role model: “I’m not sure I have a role model per se, but I do deeply admire every woman who raises children and has to walk for water.”
What I’m reading now: “A Free Life” by Ha Jin.
If not Hillary, then who? “Ethics means more to me than gender, so I’m for Obama. If you mean whom in terms of who the woman is, well, I’m sure she’s out there right now — probably writing speeches for the guys.”
What is the most important issue facing Americans in this election year? “Our collusion in the destruction of the rest of the world, whether it be through disastrous and criminal foreign policy or immoral and shortsighted environmental policy.”
Career mantra: “What career?”