Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

The Minutes

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 17, 2022

The Minutes by Tracy Letts. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Scenic design by David Zinn. Costume design by Ana Kuzmanic. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt . Sound and original music by André Pluess. Hair and wig design by Tom Watson. Choreographer Ty Defoe. Dramaturg Edward Sobel.
Cast: Ian Barford, Blair Brown, Cliff Chamberlain, K. Todd Freeman, Tracy Letts, Danny McCarthy, Jessie Mueller, Sally Murphy, Austin Pendleton, Noah Reid, and Jeff Still.
Theater: Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Jesse Mueller and Noah Reid
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
A literal and metaphoric storm rocks an otherwise seemingly unremarkable city council meeting in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Tracy Letts's The Minutes, opening tonight at Studio 54 in an amalgam of tone and style that roils from gentle satire to sobering reality to a truly WTF ending that belongs to another genre altogether.

Until the final scene, and thanks largely to an altogether terrific cast aligned with Anna D. Shapiro's sharp-eyed direction, The Minutes tells a thoroughly engaging if decidedly quirky tale of the representative body of the fictional city of Big Cherry. Theirs is a community that cherishes its traditions and trusts in its leaders to keep everything running smoothly and to clamp a tight lid on any unpleasantness that might arise. Before the evening is over, that expectation most decidedly will be put to the test.

As we enter the theater, we encounter David Zinn's solidly realistic set design, a meeting room in a city hall, with its high-arched ceiling, a display of flags, official photos and framed proclamations, and tables set up in a C-shape across the stage. Recorded patriotic music marches us to our seats, followed by the crashing sounds of thunderclaps and flashes of lightning. These accompany the entrance of the city council members into the chambers. They peel off their wet rain gear and engage in small talk, gladhanding, and some quick deal-making before Mayor Superba (played with an air of genial but assured authority by Mr. Letts himself) calls the meeting to order.

The only curious note at this point occurs when we learn that this will be a closed meeting, leading us to wonder what will be discussed that the citizens of Big Cherry will be barred from hearing. That remains a puzzle for a while, as the order of business focuses on seemingly mundane matters dealing with parking spaces, a proliferation of lost and stolen bicycles, and a plan put forth by one of the members, Mr. Hanratty (Danny McCarthy), to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities to the decorative fountain in the city's park.

Jeff Still, Tracy Letts, and Cliff Chamberlain
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
It is through these sometimes-eccentric discussions around the room that we get to learn something of the personalities of each of the council members. A few, like Hanratty, tilt slightly to the left in their politics; others, like Mr. Breeding (Cliff Chamberlain), lean toward the right. There are also the anxiously excitable Ms. Matz (Sally Murphy); the grudge-holding Ms. Innes (Blair Brown), who is holding a very large grudge indeed; and the self-absorbed, rather out-of-it Mr. Oldfield (Austin Pendleton), the eldest sitting member on the council. Taken as a whole, they may very well remind you of any such collection of elected officials at the local, state, or national level.

If there is a gadfly in the proceedings, that would be the council's newest member, Mr. Peel (Noah Reid). Due to a death in his family, he had been unable to attend the previous week's meeting, and though he repeatedly asks what he might have missed, he is constantly being stonewalled. In particular, he wonders about the sudden disappearance of another councilman, one Mr. Carp, who mysteriously was removed from office during what must have been a very contentious session. Where are the minutes of that meeting, Mr. Peel keeps insisting.

The mayor attempts to brush him off by saying the minutes have not yet been prepared, the very idea of which sticks in the craw of the super-organized council clerk, Ms. Johnson (Jessie Mueller). "I haven't copied or distributed them because Mayor Superba asked me not to," she announces, setting off a tsunami that breaches the wall of silent consent that has implications far beyond the disappearance of Mr. Carp (Ian Barford, seen in flashback).

If, as Mayor Superba says at one point, "history is a verb," then this moment of revelation is the flashpoint that releases that verb for the rest of the play. Suddenly, the eccentricities of the council members take on a more sinister shape. To say anything more of the plot twists that follow would be disclose far too much. I will just say that after a disconcerting but all-too-believable set of revelations that up the ante of satire into something far more cutting and unsettling, the play oversteps the edge and pushes everything beyond the pale into the realm of the otherworldly. Yet, while I cannot think of that tacked on "tour de force" ending as anything other than an overreaching mistake, pretty much everything that comes before, including an "historical reenactment," carefully choreographed by the Ojibwe and Oneida performance artist Ty Defoe, makes The Minutes a thrill ride of dark, dark comedy and a highlight of the theater season.