Man From Nebraska is the 2003 Pulitzer Prize finalist play from the amazing author Tracy Letts, author of August: Osage County. The audience’s enjoyment of this piece will depend on one’s tolerance for silence as identifier for desperation. For me, it the images and quiet desperation between the main characters was magical for 30 minutes, tedious for the next 30, then just annoying. Your mileage may vary.
Reed Birney is an amazing actor, and here – as Ken – he gives another fantastic performance as a man who has lost his faith. Unfortunately, it is the fantastic performance of a very passive man. While completely believable, sometimes you just want to slap him and scream, “Wake Up!”.
|Annette O'Toole and Reed Birney in Man From Nebraska|
The piece starts with Ken and his wife, Nancy, (Annette O’Toole – in an oddly written role) playing small vignettes with the minimal conversation. Nancy speaks a sentence or two and finds a comfort in their regular routine. Ken rarely speaks, but the audience can sense an undercurrent of dread and angst, even if Nancy can’t. Finally, but randomly, Ken breaks down one night and confesses to his wife he doesn’t believe in God anymore. In the middle of Baptist Nebraska, this terrifies Nancy.
Ultimately, after a lot of slow conversations with deep pauses, Ken decides to venture abroad in search of something. The Man From Nebraska finds a lot of the same angst in London, until he befriends Tamyra (a luminous Nana Menash) and adventure ensues. Ms. Boras gives a wonderful performance and livens the stage every moment she is on it.
|Reed Birney and Nana Mensah in Tracy Lett's Man from Nebraska (Photo: Joan Marcus)|
Without giving too much away, a rather obvious turn of events tumbles Ken back into his original life, but he is now transformed. Spiritually transformed, since his outward demeanor is passively the same. All is tidied up by the final curtain. But it was a long slow slog back to the beginning.
In most traditional ways, it is a great play. The acting was perfect, the pace delivers what was piece calls for. Man From Nebraska is probably a great show, just not an enjoyable one.
It was a finalist for the Pulitzer, and the quiet, deliberate pace and mannerism will resonate with many people. The sets (Takeshi Kata), with one amazing exception, mimic the show; they are minimal and understated, showing up to emphasis the distance between people. Director David Cromer has succeed in delivering exactly what he wanted. The acting is uniformly first rate and the pace is very much at one with the show. If it sounds interesting, or if you are a Reed Birney fanatic, see it.
Man From Nebraska | Playwright: Tracy Leets | Director: David Cromer | Cast: Reed Birney, Annika Boras, Heidi Armbruster, Tom Bloom, Nana Mensah, Max Gordon Moore, Annette O’Toole, Kathleen Peirce, William Ragsdale