Noah Reid (center) with (l to r) Jessie Mueller, Jeff Still, Tracy Letts, and Cliff Chamberlain in ‘The Minutes.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Playwright Tracy Letts is troubled. And like any great artist, he has transformed his unease into a bristling, thought-provoking new play that dismantles our concept of democracy. The Minutes, playing on Broadway at Studio 54 through July 24, takes audience members inside a city council meeting in the town of Big Cherry. A storm’s brewing outside, but nothing compared to the tsunami about to unfold therein.
Letts’s work premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company in 2017, and the divisiveness of that moment in our country’s political history is palpable and only further magnified by continued polarization across local and state government.
The issue at the center of the meeting is the unusual dismissal of one councilmember Carp (Ian Barford), who in a previous meeting had questioned the procurement and selling of “lost or stolen” bicycles, and fellow councilmember Assalone’s (Jeff Still) involvement.
The incident flips the lid off a Pandora’s box of issues, from the renovation of the town’s central fountain and statue to make it accessible to those with disabilities to the origins of a statue itself, designed to honor a soldier who allegedly restored order to the town after a particularly bloody battle.
What begins as a light-hearted riff a la Waiting for Guffman takes a dark turn as the actual narrative of the town’s name and history — particularly concerning the Sioux Native Americans who originally occupied the land — comes to light. The acting ensemble, many from Steppenwolf’s stalwart ensemble, including K. Todd Friedman, Sally Murphy, and Letts himself, paint a disturbing portrait of America’s penchant for revisionist history. Sound designer André Pluess’s thunderous sound effects amplify the proceedings, and periodic power failures by lighting designer Brian MacDevitt (the most telling of which happens when the councilmembers stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance), only heighten the proceedings.
The Minutes takes an other-worldly turn in its final moments, which will certainly elicit debate among those in attendance. Perhaps it is this civil discourse that Letts was inspired to explore and dismantle — a reminder that theater has the power to, if not transform, at least question the beliefs we’ve come to assume are facts.
254 West 54th Street, NYC
Through July 24
Matthew Wexler is a nationally recognized editor and writer. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.