Review: The Minutes (Steppenwolf Theatre)

| November 25, 2017

Cliff Chamberlain and Brittany Burch star as Mr. Peel and Ms. Johnson in The Minutes, Steppenwolf Theatre            
      

  

The Minutes

Written by Tracy Letts   
Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru Jan 7  |  tix: $20-$105  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
     


    
  

Tracy Letts’ scathingly funny look at small-town
city council is powerfully relevant world premiere

  

Jeff Still, Danny McCarthy, Cliff Chamberlain, William Petersen and James Vincent Meredith star in The Minutes

    
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
    
The Minutes

Review by Lauren Whalen

Small towns are a different breed, and are often grossly misconstrued in pop culture. Most small-town residents aren’t slack-jawed yokels, nor are they adorably quirky. That said, small towns have their own issues: lack of diversity, fast-traveling gossip and a sense of pride that can overpower what’s right. A small town council meeting in real time, Tracy LettsThe Minutes gets small towns (and meetings) just right, though its “controversial” ending is superfluous and over-the-top.

William Petersen and Cliff Chamberlain star as Mayor Superba and  Mr. Peel in The Minutes, Steppenwolf TheatreIt was a dark and stormy night…and the city council is gathering for their weekly meeting. The council’s newest member, Mr. Peel (Cliff Chamberlain), is a friendly, chatty dentist and proud father to a baby girl, who’s eager to effect positive change in his home, especially after the recent death of his beloved mother. As the council gathers and Mayor Superba (William Petersen) calls the meeting to order, there’s a notable empty seat in the room. Where is Mr. Carp? Mr. Peel, who missed last week’s meeting, grows increasingly frustrated when no one will answer his questions about what happened at last week’s meeting, and why Mr. Carp is no longer with the council. As resolutions are passed and rejected and new projects are pitched, Mr. Peel doggedly seeks the real story.

When The Minutes is good, it’s very, very good, and that’s the case for the play’s first 90-95 minutes. As a small-town transplant myself, I can verify the hilarious and almost heartbreaking accuracy of the city council. Mr. Blake (James Vincent Meredith) is the single person of color in an otherwise all-Caucasian room. Only two council members are women: the realistically dotty Ms. Matz (Sally Murphy) and Ms. Innes (Penny Slusher), whose mellifluous written statement is the source of much contention early on. Predictably, with the exception of clerk Ms. Johnson (Brittany Burch), the rest of the council members are white men. Their interest in city matters ranges from lackadaisical to gung-ho and over-prepared. Regarding the latter, Mr. Hanratty (Danny McCarthy) desperately wants to build a new fountain that’s accessible to all, while Mr. Blake wants to add a steel cage match called “Lincoln Smackdown” to the annual citywide festival. Letts’ dialogue and humor are spot-on as always, and as the town’s darker secrets are revealed, the reactions of various council members are believably complacent and utterly maddening.

Danny McCarthy, Jeff Still, Cliff Chamberlain and William Peterson star in The MinutesCliff Chamberlain stars as Mr. Peel in The Minutes by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf Theatre Bittany Burch stars as Ms. Johnson in The Minutes by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf TheatreJeff Still, William Petersen and Kevin Anderson star in The Minutes by Tracy Letts, SteppenwolfSally Murphy stars as Ms. Matz in The Minutes by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf Theatre Kevin Anderson and Penny Slusher star as Mr. Breeding and  Ms. Innes in The Minutes, Steppenwolf TheatreBrittany Burch, Danny McCarthy, James Vincent Meredith, Cliff Chamberlain and William Peterson star in The Minutes

In her fifth collaboration with Letts, director Anna D. Shapiro proves herself a master storyteller, able to keep the pacing tight and preserving every humorous moment with ease. Set designer David Zinn recreates a city hall building, trying so desperately to be “fancy” and professional, that I wondered if he visited my hometown for research. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design and Andre Pluess’ sound flawlessly recreate a thunderstorm outside a building that’s seen much better days. And the ensemble is well-cast and strong, especially Meredith and Chamberlain.

As strong and entertaining as The Minutes is, it falters in the last five minutes. Mayor Superba’s final soliloquy is clumsily written and out of character, threatening in an exaggerated way that’s completely unnecessary. Up until that point, hometown smugness and revisionist history are addressed in an incredibly realistic matter. The final sequence, however, just feels like Letts is trying too hard to be “edgy” and it’s not a good look on him, or anyone else. Despite the ridiculous ending, however, The Minutes is funny, dark and powerful, especially relevant in an era of “fake news” and blatant white supremacy.

  
Rating: ★★★
  

The Minutes continues through January 7th at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map).  Tickets are $20-$105, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at Steppenwolf.org(Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission)

The Minutes by Tracy Letts at Steppenwolf Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


  

artists

cast

Kevin Anderson (Mr. Breeding), Ian Barford (Mr. Carp), Francis Guinan (Mr. Oldfield), James Vincent Meredith (Mr. Blake), Sally Murphy (Ms. Matz), William Petersen (Mayor Superba), Brittany Burch (Ms. Johnson), Cliff Chamberlain (Mr. Peel), Danny McCarthy (Mr. Hanratty), Penny Slusher (Ms. Innes), Jeff Still (Mr. Assalone)

Understudies: Jeanne T. Arrigo, Henson Keys, Michael Kingston, Loren Lazerine, Scott Allen Luke, Mary Williamson

behind the scenes

Anna D. Shapiro (director), David Zinn (scenic design), Ana Kuzmanic (costume design), Brian MacDevitt (lighting design), Andre Pluess (sound design, original music), Dexter Bullard (choreogaphy), Edward Sobel (dramaturg), Gigi Buffington (company vocal coach), Aaron Carter (artistic producer), Tom Pearl (director of production), JC Clementz (casting director), Christine D. Freeburg (stage manager), Elise Hausken (assistant stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

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James Vincent Meredith, Chamberlain and Jeff Still star in The Minutes, Steppenwolf TheatreFrancis Guinan stars as Mr. Oldfield in The Minutes, Steppenwolf TheatreJames Vincent Meredith and Cliff Chamberlain star as Mr. Blake and Mr. Peel in The Minutes, Steppenwolf TheatrePenny Slusher stars as Ms. Innes in The Minutes by Tracy Letts, Steppenwolf Theatre

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, New Work, Parody, Steppenwolf, Tracy Letts, World Premier

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    Review: The Minutes (Steppenwolf Theatre) | Chicago Theater Beat