Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts scores another satirical hit with “The Minutes,” a new play at The Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood that is bound for Broadway in the spring.
Though clearly drawing on Letts’ Oklahoma upbringing, the play attains a more universal resonance.
The author of the immortal “August: Osage County” and significant plays like “Superior Donuts,” “Bug,” “Killer Joe,” Mary Page Marlowe” and “Linda Vista” turns the unlikely premise of a small town city council meeting into a major statement about contemporary politics, how history is written by the victors and why mythologizing the past shapes the future.
“The Minutes” succeeds as a comedy with recurring jokes about parking spaces, the unfailing mispronunciation of a council member’s name and a poorly conceived Abraham Lincoln-themed cage match. It effectively satirizes the mundanity of municipal government and how it often ignores big-picture issues that matter to everyday residents, such as providing stable electricity, as evidenced by the frequent power outages that disrupt the proceedings.
The play never fails to amuse, and the actors exhibit excellent comedic timing as well as pathos against the backdrop of an extremely realistic council chambers set.
Filtered through the perspective of a pediatric dentist who followed his wife to town and became civically involved after the birth of a child, the play starts out with a mystery and ends with a pointed spectacle of performance art, veering off the rails of verisimilitude into a trenchant, transcendent absurdism.
“The Minutes,” the title of which alludes to missing minutes from the previous council meeting, at first seems like a sharply observed comedy of municipal manners but unfurls to show layers of greater and greater depth. It’s a riveting, laugh-out-loud play with a lot to say about politics, but its message is more timeless than topical. Whether with big laughs, social observations or insights into how power is structured, every motion carries.
It's perhaps the only council meeting you won't hope adjourns as soon as possible.
For more information, visit steppenwolf.org or call 312-335-1650.