Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Man from Nebraska TOP PICK

Man From Nebraska
By Tracy Letts
Directed by David Cromer
Second Stage Theatre
Extended through March 26

By Lauren Yarger
What happens when one day you realize that you no longer believe what you believe? That's the question poignantly explored by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts in Man From Nebraska getting an extended Off-Broadway run at Second Stage Theatre

For Ken Carpenter (the always-excellent Reed Birney), suddenly the stars are out of alignment and he isn't sure what he wants out of life. After all, he can't complain. He and his devoted wife, Nancy (the also always-excellent Annette O'Toole) have settled into the routine of comfortable life. They seem in sync as they go to church, visit Ken's mother, Cammie (Kathleen Pierce), in the nursing home, eat a silent meal together and finish off the day watching some bad TV.

They go through the motions of a normal life and Director David Cromer is the star here, allowing the drama to take its time to reveal the monotony of the couple's routine by not falling into the temptation to speed up the action. The result is that through an extended silence, or the subtle way Ken instinctively hands Nancy the napkin she needs, we get a sense of two that have become one, even if that one is fairly boring.

But one night, in what is probably the best depiction of a crisis of faith on stage (and one of the finest moments of acting you will ever see), Ken breaks down and confesses to Nancy that he doesn't believe in God any more. He is full of sorrow and despair and doesn't think God hears his prayers. He thinks people are not rewarded for what they do right and punished for what they do wrong, he sobs. Maybe we're all just accidental science and when we die, we're done.

He tries to talk with his daughter, Ashley (Annika Boras), with whom he works, but with whom he doesn't have a real friendship, but doesn't get anywhere. His other daughter is away at school and apparently not interested in interrupting her studies for a master's degree to deal with family matters. Nancy wants to help her husband, but doesn't know how, so she reaches out to their pastor, Rev. Todd (William Ragsdale). The understanding pastor doesn't seem phased, however, saying it just sounds like a bunch of questions have come up that Ken thought he had already answered. He suggests Ken take a vacation, get out of Lincoln, and spend some time by himself.

Ken heads to London, the only other place he has ever been (he had been stationed there while in the service) and strikes up an unlikely friendship with hotel barkeep Tamyra (Nana Mensah) and her flatmate (and comic relief character) Harry Brown (Max Gordon Moore). Soon, Ken isn't taking calls from home and is finding new ways to express himself through sculpture and a fling with the very willing and kinky Pat Monday (Heidi Armbruster).

Meanwhile, Nancy is left on her own to deal with Cammie, life in Lincoln and with the romantic attentions of Rev. Todd's father, Bud (Tom Bloom). The skies of Nebraska hang over all Ken experiences and finally call him home (thanks to Set Designer Takeshi Kata and Lighting Designer Keith Parham). Original music and Sound Design by Daniel Kluger adds to the mood.

Letts' script is sensitive and probing. These are real people with real issues tinged with messages about acceptance, friendship, forgiveness and what is real in life. The sadder elements of the story are balanced with humor, including some laugh-out-loud moments. The tightly written script runs a perfect two hours with an intermission. My only criticism is an obscure reference to Ken's not understanding the stars that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of his quandary about faith (but it does lend itself to a nice special effect).

Man From Nebraska has been extended at Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $56-$100: http://2st.com; 212-246-4422.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- Drug use
-- Nudity
-- Sexual activity
-- Explicit dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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