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Shapiro: Helmer pulls off ‘Hat’ trick

Women's Impact Report 2011: Anna D. Shapiro

Broadway loves a winner and after Anna D. Shapiro’s bravura staging of Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” earned the Chicago-based stage director a Tony Award, she received a number of invitations to return to the Main Stem.

Stage directing remains a male-dominated profession, and a woman seemingly is never asked to direct a play as challenging as “August,” no less one as funny, ferocious and profanity-laden as the project that finally coaxed Shapiro back to New York, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ super-charged “Motherfucker With the Hat.”

To add to the challenge, co-star Chris Rock had never appeared in a play — any play — and the quality of his performance depended on Shapiro’s ability to win the comedian’s complete trust.

Things seemed to be going smoothly. And then New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel struck, penning a devastating column declaring the play a major disaster thanks to its unprintable title, the lack of interest in a play about drug addicts and alcoholics and Rock’s failure as a box office draw.

“It was shocking, very, very shocking,” recalls Shapiro. “In Chicago, you’re not supposed to be criticized until you stop working. I probably stayed internally stunned longer than I should have. But I couldn’t show anyone how I felt.”

Digging in her heels, Shapiro had only one choice but to lead her troops to an unanticipated victory: mostly terrific reviews, the return of the play’s initial investment by the end of its limited engagement and six Tony nominations including a second for Shapiro’s directing.

While now inundated with offers, Shapiro has made only one commitment, agreeing to stage Tracy Letts’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” planned for June 2012 at her home base, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater.

It is more than likely that the play that does bring her back to Broadway is a play a woman is never asked to direct.

Title: Theater director
Role model: A couple of girlfriends who are fighting their way through some rough waters not of their own making. Any mom who can hold their kids up out of that muck — those are my girls.
Career mantra: “Never put your sense of self-worth into the hands of swine.”
Leisure pursuits: “I have two-year-old twins (so) sleeping and getting to talk to my husband.”
Political passion: “I’m a pacifist. Deep.”