Playwright Tracy Letts possesses the extraordinary ability to lull an audience into expecting something dry and ordinary but then making it explosive. Teaming up again with Anna D. Shapiro, his director for “August: Osage County,” Letts takes a banal subject, a city council meeting, and turns into something quite entertaining and unexpected. “The Minutes,” at Studio 54 features Letts himself as Mayor Superba and an impressive cast including Jessie Mueller, Blair Brown, Noah Reid (from “Schitt’s Creek” making his Broadway debut) and Austin Pendleton among others, as the council members about to meet in a closed session. Their agenda includes new business, park improvements and the yearly Heritage Festival. Sounds boring! Wouldn’t you rather watch paint dry?
And yes, they do discuss the upcoming festival and civic improvements, but along the way, some interesting events occur. Mr. Peel (Reid,) the newest board member missed the last meeting because of his mother’s death and is anxious to catch up. Yet he can’t seem to learn what happened. There are no minutes and even more mysterious is what happened to Mr. Karp, a former board member. If this were sci-fi, we might even think he’d been abducted by aliens. The more Peel asks, the more resistant the Mayor and the others are.
After the first few moments of pleasantries and condolences, the meeting begins routinely with the pledge and announcements. From the onset, it goes a little off course when Mr. Oldfield, the member with the most seniority (Pendelton) discusses parking spaces. He seems a bit doddering and sometimes loses track of what’s going on but the group tolerates him (and the audience loves him.)
Mr. Hanratty (Danny McCarthy) has his own agenda and has done extensive investigation into redesigning the local park with full access. He is particularly conscious since he has a disabled family member. There is some discussion over the appropriate language to use and then a brief debate about the difference between semantics and nomenclature. In other words-what is PC? As usual, cost takes precedence over what is right.
The main topic of discussion is the Heritage Fair, marking the beginnings of the town of Big Cherry. Since Peel is a relative newcomer, he is unaware of the ‘illustrious’ history of the town, the history everyone else grew up with. Rather than tell him, the council members assume parts and act the story out as if they had been rehearsing for weeks in the parking lot. It’s a delightfully comic interlude and lightens the mood, leaving the audience totally unprepared for later disclosures.
Those that wish to know must see the play themselves because I don’t want to ruin the story, but we do find out what happened to Mr. Karp. The question is how will Mr. Peel react to the revelations?
Although the town is Big Cherry, it’s almost impossible not to think of how divisive US politics have grown as one watches “The Minutes,” especially when we wonder how seemingly intelligent people take sides because of politics rather than doing the ‘right’ thing.
This play is anything but boring! There’s a stellar cast and a tightly written script, well-directed by Shapiro. You never know what to expect with Letts. It may be quiet and peaceful or it might explode! No humdrum theater. Few playwrights can mine laughter from the mispronunciation of a name.
“The Minutes” contain everything -hypocrisy, greed, conformity - that constitute small town life and democracy. The council is made up of characters that we might even recognize. The play forces you to think but at least Letts permits us to laugh as well.
All Present and Accounted For