Friday December 15th 2017

“The Minutes”

When I hear  that I will be seeing a Tracy Letts play, I anticipate having an evening where my brain will work harder than normal. The man is a genius and has what I call a “very sick mind”, but he sees things as they are and is able to bring them to the stage (as well as film) where we, the audience, are forced to think! His new play, “The Minutes”, now in its World Premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre ( of course) is a roughly 90 minutes play about small town politics that takes place in the town hall where the city council meets (with no intermission) on a rainy night.

The set ( (David Zinn has created a masterpiece) will make you think and feel political. People around noted that it had the feeling of the Oval Office, but having served on a chamber board that used the Village Council Chambers for their Board meeting, I felt that this was small town, USA at its finest. One of the council members, in fact, the newest of members, Mr. Peel (a marvelous performance by Cliff Chamberlain) has just returned home after missing the previous meeting for his mother’s funeral. As the members enter the chamber he inquires about what took place the week that he missed, but no one will answer his questions.

After all are assembled and just prior to the meeting, we begin to learn a bit about each of them, from the elder of the group, Mr. Oldfield (brilliantly played by Francis Guinan) and Mayor Superba ( returning ensemble member William Petersen) to the others on the council; Mr. Assalone (Jeff Still), Mrs. Innes (the delightful Penny Slusher),  Mrs. Matz (Sally Murphy), Mr. Hanratty ( Danny Mccarthy), Ms. Johnson , the city clerk ( Brittany Burch) , Mr. Breeding ( Kevin Anderson) and Mr. Blake (a dynamic character handled by the always reliable James Vincent Meredith) the only member of the council who is “of color”. It turns out that one of the Council members is not present and from what Mr. Peel has heard, left the council. That member is Mr. Carp ( played to perfection by Ian Barford), who does appear later in the story.

During the council meeting, we bear witness to all of the things one might expect at a meeting of this sort. The invocation, pledge of allegiance, the reading of the minutes…oh, oh. They are waiving the reading of the last meeting’s minutes BUT they are approving the minutes from the prior meeting. This causes concern by Mr. Peel as he was not at the last meeting and would feel better knowing what may or may not have transpired at said meeting. He wants the minutes presented and is voted down as the mayor informs him that the minutes are not yet ready to be handed out. It was a “glitch in the system”.

There is a great deal of bantering by members who have items that they feel need to be discussed. Mr. Blake wants to have a fund -raiser called “slam Lincoln”, Mr. Hanratty would like to have a new fountain in the center of town where handicapped people can get to. Turns out, he has a sister in a wheelchair, so as in most political actions, the benefits are not really for the community, but indeed for someone in his family. In fact, in all of the discussions and items up for discussions we see that politics is indeed a do unto others ,as long as I reap some of the rewards. There is a great deal of comedy in the speeches that these people bring to the table. Letts is indeed a wordsmith that gets his point across through some unique forms.

When they are telling newbee Peel about the statue that would indeed be part of the fountain, they do a re-enactment of the battle that saved their town allowing the town to grow and prosper. This is their future is the motto that they follow. But is this history factual? This is a question that comes up later in the play as we learn more about the missing in action Mr. Carp and what was in the minutes of the previous meeting that was kept off the record. It does come out later in the play and the feeling of the story changes dramatically. The play is no longer a comedy and in fact is a strong lesson that bears learning. Some of our history, and I mean the United States, may not be all that the history books depict. If you were to find out that what you believed in was not exactly as you thought, what might you do. If what you learned might alter the city you live in and therefore change your family’s lifestyle, what would you do to protect them.

The technical aspects of this production are flawless. Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes are very fitting. The lighting (with great storm effects) are handled by Brian MacDevitt and the sound with original music done by Andre Pluess is sheer perfection, as well. Dexter Bullard handled the choreography. While this is not a dancing play, the idea of using a choreographer for some of the special staging is clever and Ms Shapiro deserves a hand for taking that road. There are also a host of panel discussion moderators who will help audience members understand the story they have seen:  Rebekah Camm, Gregory Geffrard, Lavina Jadhwani, Lauren Katz, Derek Matson, Neel McNeil, Derek McPhatter, Ligia Sandoval and Leean Torske.

In Letts play, directed to perfection by Anna D. Shapiro (who has worked with him many times) takes us to this place where we might not want to go. Mr. Peel, who is new to the town (his wife was born and raised there) and has a new business and young child wants to do what is best for the town he lives in, but at the same time, feels the need to protect his loved ones and their future. The play is about small town politics with real-world power and can easily translate to a big city as well ( or even, a large company). Our world is different today than in days of yore, and the political scene has changed as well. Are there little secrets in small town America that  if revealed could change the world for the populations of these towns ( or cities)? You bet there are! What takes place at the end of this play is amazing as well as shocking and cause to question some of the choices that we make in our lives. I am sure that discussion groups will be held at the end of each performance. Have fun and open your mind to laugh at the funny stuff and question the items that are questionable.

“The Minutes” will continue at Steppenwolf Theatre  (Downstairs) through January 7th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays  7:30 p.m.

Wednesdays  7:30 p.m. also 2 p.m. performances starting 12/6

Thursdays  7:30 p.m. (EXCEPT Turkey Day  11/23)

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3 p.m. and  7:30 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m. (on 11/26 at 7:30 p.m.  and on 12/3 ASL performance at 7:30 p.m.) On 12/10 there is a TT (touch tour) at 1:30 p.m. prior to the scheduled 3 p.m. AD performance)

Tickets run from $20- $105 with limited student tickets  and half price RUSH tickets (day of show, one hour prior to curtain). To order your place in history stop by the box office at 1650 N. Halsted, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org

Parking is available in the lots and garage directly south of the theater and valet parking as well right at the front door. Don’t forget the new Front Bar that is connected to the lobby and theater where coffee and other beverages are available as well as snacks before or after the play.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Minutes”.

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