Tracy Letts’ newest play, The Minutes, opened at Studio 54 on Sunday. The show, framed in the context of a boring town hall meeting, quickly escalates into a horror show questioning white privilege in not-so-subtle ways. The cast and set get universal praise; the show itself a mixed response, with many reviewers unsure what to think in the end about the efficacy of Letts’ message via this form, but none-the-less impressed with the playwright’s use of suspense and surprise in delivering it.
The New York Times Review of The Minutes
…Letts, a master of the American Macabre, makes something quite different of these middling workplace comedy ingredients: not a “Parks and Recreation,” nor even a “Miles for Mary,” but a deeply troubling play about history and horror. … But even with nothing but admiration for what Letts is trying to do, and for his choice to engage the tools of genre to do it, I have many questions about the way it plays out for an audience. As directed by his frequent collaborator Anna D. Shapiro, “The Minutes” doesn’t quite nail its U-turn from expert comedy to jaw-dropping horror, which it tries to finesse by inoculating the first half of the play with toxins from the second. … These staging clichés and comic bits, often at the cost of character logic, do not really prepare us for the play’s awful revelations — and perhaps it is exactly Letts’s intention that we not be prepared. Who ever is? Still, in trying to use purely theatrical means to avoid the traps of didacticism that so many well-intentioned plays fall into, “The Minutes” instead falls into the trap of bad taste. … Ultimately, I came to feel that if it is the theater’s main business to mirror who we are — to act, like the minutes of a meeting, as an absolute record of what we say and how we behave — then “The Minutes” does what a play aimed mostly at white people must. It shows us how we are starting to understand, but still mostly failing to accept, that our privileges are tied to a history of denying them to others. I think it is warning us, in its own dramatic way, to do better, before the minutes, as they will, harden into millenniums.
Variety Review of The Minutes
Some stories creep up in disguise, hiding a ghastly scowl. “The Minutes” is an astonishing feat from playwright and star Tracy Letts, not least for its brilliant finesse in orchestrating audience expectations and surprise. To go in knowing little or nothing about the play may be the purest way to experience its dramatic cunning. (Reader, be warned.) Even so, “The Minutes” doesn’t trade in shocking secrets or revelations. It exposes the systems of delusion that blind people to truths buried in plain sight. It’s devilishly funny until it’s not. It is thrilling and essential theater that interrogates the present by laying bare how history is written. And it’s among the best new plays on Broadway in years. … The ensemble of Steppenwolf and Broadway veterans, including Blair Brown, Sally Murphy and Ian Barford, play expertly off each other even as they mostly remain in their chairs. The stasis in Shapiro’s staging has a clear logic (how often does the seat of power shift?), and serves as stark contrast to isolated bursts of physical action. The actors are nimble with Letts’ mordant, deceptively situational humor, and in embodying their characters’ chilling complacency. “The Minutes” is both a political comedy and a wicked, methodically plotted horror show, not unlike American democracy and its original sins. The play’s razor-sharp edge is all the more cutting for being polished with easy wit, like tickling a captive before releasing the guillotine.
Deadline Review of The Minutes
Tracy Letts’ The Minutes would be one of the most thrilling new plays on Broadway this season even if recent real-life events hadn’t made it seem as uncanny as it is funny and, ultimately, disarming. The Minutes – there are a brisk 90 of them in all – begins as one thing and ends up quite another, and every step along the way is so finely rendered that we’re too busy savoring the moment to see what’s waiting just ahead. Featuring an impeccable cast headed by Noah Reid – the Schitt’s Creek star makes a wonderful Broadway debut here – The Minutes reunites playwright and cast member Letts with his August: Osage County director Anna D. Shapiro, and together they find once again the eccentric, perfect balance of laugh-out-loud humor, dark undercurrents and emotional violence that made the prize-winning August unforgettable. … It’s also fair to see, without giving away a truly disturbing ending, that The Minutes lifts itself from a satire of mundane corruption and small-town secrecy to something like an indictment of the very notion of America’s self-perception. The lightning flashes and booms of thunder that occur throughout the play – the lighting design is by Brian MacDevitt, sound design and original music by André Pluess – serve to illuminate and disguise, as needed, lending The Minutes an unsettling, eerie and ominous mood from the get-go.
The Guardian Review of The Minutes
For long stretches, The Minutes, is dull, which Letts seems to intend as a feature, not a bug. Because wheels of democracy – as anyone who has stuck with C-Span for more than a few minutes can attest – tend to roll slowly, when they don’t get stuck in the mud. … And in truth, the show is never all that dull, in part because Anna D Shapiro, the outgoing artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre, has a true-blue acumen for pinpointing the talents of her cast, most of them Steppenwolf veterans, who wring the blood and plasma from each motion and vote. … The American experiment, Letts suggests, is a devil’s bargain, which the final moments nudge toward the literal. … It’s an argument that a left-leaning Broadway audience will find sympathetic, particularly when delivered in the easeful environment of an expensive theater by a cast that’s mostly white and mostly male. Which is to see that there are more radical ways to Letts’s argument and more radical ways to stage it. A play, like a democratic system, is by the people and for the people. But it so rarely includes everyone.