Sunday, February 24, 2008

Dennis Letts - RIP

Dennis Letts - RIP

Sad news this morning for anyone who has had the opportunity to see August: Osage County. Former Oklahoma-based university professor and actor Dennis Letts died on Friday. Letts bravely portrayed August's patriarch Beverly Weston. He was also father of the show's playwright, Tracy Letts.

According to the Tulsa World:
He was diagnosed with cancer last September, but he still chose to go to New York to perform in his son's play, which opened in December to positive reviews. He performed in eight shows a week, all while receiving cancer treatment, until late January.

"You're talking to a fellow who's gone from Tishomingo Community Theater to Broadway. That's quite a step," Letts told the Tulsa World in an interview last November.
When I finally saw the Broadway incarnation of August: Osage County on Valentine's Day, I learned that Dennis Letts would not be performing in the show that evening. Now, of course, I know why. While Munson Hicks admirably took on the role of Beverly Weston that evening, I couldn't help but miss Dennis Letts, whose soft-spoken dignity in his portrayal was what really drew me inside August the first time I saw it.

In fact, from the moment I saw Dennis Letts begin his beautifully understated performance last summer in the initial Steppenwolf run of August: Osage County, I knew I was witnessing something very unique and special in all my theatregoing years.

Here's what I said then:
Dennis Letts, the playwright's father, in a subtle poignant portrayal who haunts the play long after his lone appearance... My first twinge in realizing just how excellent this production would be was in the opening scene. Beverly is not so much interviewing Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero), a mysterious young native American woman, for a housekeeping position as much as he's preparing her for the tumult she's about to face in the wake of his departure. He's long-since resigned to losing his battle with the bottle and his wife's addictions to the many drugs she takes, yet he wants to leave Violet in caring hands.
After that August performance, I walked down Chicago's Halsted Street by myself, thinking how very fortunate I had been in seeing these landmark performances. As I walked further, I came across another lone figure on the sidewalk. It was Dennis Letts. I couldn't resist striking up a conversation in which I congratulated him on his incredible performance. Toward the end, I said, "I'll bet you are extremely proud of your son," to which he responded, "Oh boy, I am. I am."

My thoughts this morning are not only with his superb stage family -- the Chicago and New York casts and crews of August: Osage County -- but particularly with his wife Billie Letts, his brother Ray Letts, and his three sons Dana, Shawn and of course Tracy. Here's wishing each of them peace over their loss.

Memorials may be made in Dennis Letts' honor to the North Tulsa Heritage Foundation (322 North Greenwood,Tulsa, Oklahoma, 918.596.1006 or

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 24 February, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

I was so shocked and saddened when I read this. I'm grateful that I had a chance to see Dennis Letts on stage in November. I had no idea that he was so ill. I can still picture him at that desk, talking to Kimberly Guerrero's character. I'll always remember that. What an incredible trouper. I'm so glad he had a chance to be a part of his son's amazing play and could take such great pride in his accomplishments. My thoughts are with his family.

At 24 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Thanks for providing me with the heads-up earlier this morning. I'm absolutely shocked and deeply saddened.

At 24 February, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a shock. Mr Lett's was so brave and a hero to go on stage while being that sick. Tracy must be very proud.

At 24 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I moved beyond words that Dennis Letts valiantly chose to go with the show to Broadway given his diagnosis. I have little doubt that his untimely passing will add a poignant layer to each performance of August: Osage County.

At 24 February, 2008, Blogger Alicia said...

I just read portions of your post to my husband, with a halted voice and teary eyes. When we saw his performance on January 26th, we noted that he didn't take a bow at the curtain call. During the opening scene we could tell that he wasn't feeling well, so we attributed his absence to that. However, we just figured that he had the rampant-running flu.

How sad and inspiring, all at once. 'Tis a shame he didn't live to see Tracy win the Pulitzer, since we all know that's going to happen. But he probably had his suspicions...

At 24 February, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Alicia, I can't help but hope that Dennis Letts will be smiling down on Tracy for each well-deserved award he wins. While any honor is sure to be somewhat bittersweet, they were made possible in part by Dennis Letts' own incredible journey. And I'm thankful I had a chance to see him along the way.


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