Performing Arts: Theater
April 28, 2022
Step inside a small town City Council meeting haunted by historically fractured ghosts and you get Tracy Letts' The Minutes, a Steppenwolf Theatre Company production at Studio 54.

Busily preparing meeting packets for council members, the efficient Ms. Johnson (Jesse Mueller), a no-nonsense woman, keeps meeting secrets zipped up.

Back from a family funeral, Mr. Peel (Noah Reid) a new member of the community, wonders why a fellow-councilman, Mr. Crap (Ian Barford) departed the City Council. Everyone, including the fatherly Mayor Superba (Tracy Letts), avoids answering. Something is rotten in Middle America.

A line-up of A-list actors fill the cushy seats set inside scenic designer David Zinn's town hall complete with coffee maker, American flag, and school pennants. An elderly luddite who has seen plenty and forgets quickly, Mr. Oldfield (Austin Pendleton) is a one-man demonstration of essential acting. There's not a wasted moment or superfluous move. Next to him on stage and in stature, Blair Brown (Ms. Innes) remains professional, formal and operates by the book.

Unwilling to clarify the reason for Crap's disappearance, the meeting is called to order without reading the minutes from the last session. Why the mystery? Well, there's much to unpack in a town called Big Cherry represented by "The Savages" -- their local football team. After some horse-trading over bills, the main event sneers into action. If one believes it takes a village to raise a child, can that grown child challenge its village's values?

Letts targets large issues that haunt the backdrop of every main street in America. Neither logic nor compassion convene to overturn insidious traditions built on prefabricated, evasive truths. Despite an attempt by Mr. Crapp and Mr. Peel to illuminate past indiscretions, communal intransigence ruthlessly dominates.

In the latter half of the 90-minute play, members of the council enact a sort of cartoonish, school-play version of their town's historically flawed roots. Off-putting in its wrong-minded hysteria, the audience is torn between laughter and despair.

Under the skillful direction of Anna D. Shapiro, the bracing ensemble works with the precision of the Rockettes in a drama guaranteed to keep you thinking long after the curtain descends.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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