Steppenwolf Theatre Co. premiered its new production, “The Minutes,” a single act political-comedy based around a small town theme Nov. 21 at the Downstairs Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St.).
The intriguing play from the mind of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Tracy Letts (“August Osage County,” “Superior Donuts”) stars Kevin Anderson, Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, James Vincent Meredith, Sally Murphy, William Petersen and Cliff Chamberlain, and is directed by Tony Award recipient Anna D. Shapiro.
A comedy at heart, “The Minutes” incorporates real-world issues through its portrayal of the struggling City Council of Big Cherry, a small American town seemingly struck by a new development in its long believed-to-be true history. The council, led by the intimidating Mayor Superba (Petersen), is faced with issue after issue, and tackles each with ill-minded discipline and borderline idiocy.
As the council members bicker amongst themselves over parking spaces and wooden planks, the newest member, Mr. Peel (Chamberlain), remains thoughtful and introspective, allowing him to stand out as the clear protagonist and central character.
The entire cast worked cohesively to provide an overall striking performance, with each actor adopting a specific archetype for their character. Guinan (Mr. Oldfield) took on the role of the whiney old man, while Anderson (Mr. Breeding) assumed the guise of a flippant jokester. The uniqueness and variety of personalities allowed for each individual performance to become its own act. Every line was seamless in its delivery, and in turn, added intensity to the serious topic the play addresses.
The story is driven by the disappearance of the minutes, or the agenda of items discussed during the previous council gathering. This, when coupled with the absence of the long-time council member Mr. Carp, allows for some speculation and skepticism as to the underlying intentions of the Big Cherry council.
At first glance, “The Minutes” provides its audience and the fictional town of Big Cherry with the simple task of deciding what kind of town it wants to be — one that buries its history or exposes it. After reflection, one can see the parallels regarding America’s skewed and misinterpreted accounts of its own history. The play asks whether it’s ethical to rewrite history to protect present day citizens from the atrocities of the past.
The cognitive dissonance that accompanies the performance is definitely intentional, allowing the audience to see what real-world power truly looks like. Mr. Peel symbolizes the pursuit of justice, while the rest of the council represents the elite, using its authoritative clout to smother those seeking the truth.
The lively cast of “The Minutes” makes for an insightful, yet entertaining experience that will have audiences thinking long after they’ve left the theater. Showtimes have been extended through Jan. 7, with tickets ranging from $20 to $105 available for purchase at www.steppenwolf.org or by calling Audience Services at 312-335-1650.