WPCNR STAGE DOOR. Theatre Review by John F. Bailey. June 6, 2022:
It is so appropriate that I am writing this piece on the night the White Plains Common Council is holding its monthly meeting in public at 55 Main Street, City Hall.
However because I saw The Minutes at Studio 54 Saturday afternoon, I can never watch a Common Council Meeting or a town hall fact-finding community zoom again and take them seriously.
I took a reporter’s holiday Saturday to see The Minutes the upstart play reveals the truth hidden beneath the pretense, patronizing, sentimentality and traditions of city councils across this land.
Playwright Tracy Letts has captured the essence of town and county governing principles (or lack of principles), as they are practiced in communities in a play that once seen you will never forget.
That’s what inspired plays do. The Minutes is one of those. It crackles!
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company production at the majestic Studio 54 Theatre is a grandiose and pompous “governmental” environment fitting venue for a meeting of the fictional, but all too real Big Cherry Council meeting. The Big Cherry Council is insightful, satiric, ultimately devastating commentary on how governing bodies work, not just in America, (where it’s go along to get along, maybe, but never results) but everywhere.
You as the live attendees of the City Council meeting take seats in the Chamber with the Sousa classic Stars and Stripes Forever playing in the impressive still empty “City Council Chamber of the Town of Big Cherry” (set meticulously real by David Zinn) for one night.
It is about to be called to order by Tracy Letts, the writer of the crackling, fraught with fear and zinged with bolts of truth and consequences council meeting like no other you’ve seen.
But in reality you have.
Tracy Letts, playwright and lead actor is the facilitating orchestrating dominating Mayor Superba conducting his city council of actors, spot-on mimicking the foibles and Roberts Rules of Order, ordinances and explanations for “missing minutes” raised by new councilperson Mr. Peel, played by insistent self-righteous and relentness Noah Peel of “Schitt’s Creek.” Councilman Peel who did not attend the previous Council session and wonders where the minutes are.
As this realistic portrayal of a typical City Council meeting unfolded, I laughed so hard, a little too loudly having seen far too many similar real life exchanges at Council meetings the last twenty two years– this was like Down Memory Lane
As Mayor Letts called the meeting order, there was the elderly councilman Oldfield played with hilarious timing by Austin Pendleton in opening remarks drawing attention to the now vacated City Hall parking space and when it would be assigned. Mr. Pendleton’s “Councilman Oldfield” loses track of the items being discussed with hilarious inattentive questions. The audience loved him.
First up is a presentation of a design for a new fountain for the town square by Councilman who has researched designs and wishes to use the design of his sister for the fountain who is disabled, and have the fountain accessible. This was so reminiscent of every council presentation of a project – especially the old Fountain presentation years ago.
Councilman Carp’s design was sharply criticized for costs and making the fountain handicapped accessible. Wow! I thought I had stepped back in time. I have seen so many of those presentations. All that was missing were the lawyers. Councilman Carp should have called the usual lawyer experts to handle Council to finesse objections.
Then attention turns to renaming the Big Cherry Festival, suggested by K. Todd Freeman, the lone black councilman who feels the festival should be renamed Lincoln Smackdown to reflect more of the black experience that raised the Mayor Superba’s incredulous protest, “You feel Lincoln did not do enough for black people,” one of Mr. Letts’ best written sequences.
This leads to the new councilman Peele (who supports the fountain what was so important about the Big Cherry Festival and the play bursts into the City Council reenacting the famous rescue of a pioneer family from Indians that is part of the town lore.
As this winds down…the city council audience has no idea about what is to come.
Blair Brown as Ms. Innes, the City Clerk is continually asked by Mr. Peel about the missing minutes. Ms. Brown with the aplomb of City Clerks everywhere keeps explaining they were not ready. Ms. Brown in an interview said she was a city clerk at one time. She is so realistic totally unflustered and official in the attitude City Clerks have, it is in their DNA.
Then it appears, Ms. Brown under close questioning by the relentless upstart Councilman, Mr. Peel, reveals there were notes.
After a tense vote, (fraught with the drama characterizing many a key White Plains Common Council vote), the Big Cherry council votes to hear Clerk Innes read the notes contain the testimony of the resigned member of the council who arrives to recite his remarks and the real story of why the minutes were missing.
The question after the minutes are read, reenacted by the missing Councilmember Carp (Ian Bradford) in a compelling story of discovery is — what does the council do about the truth? What does Mr. Peel do after he learns the truth?
The council audience in the theatre sees what the City Council decides to do.
The ending is to be expected.
The City Council does what every council does.
They do the right thing for the cityl
Critic Warning Disclaimer: Thinking, introspection raised if you chose to attend this meeting of the Big Cherry City Council.
Persons viewing the shocking ending of this work will be subject to thoughts as to what would you do? What should the City Council do? What would be best for the city? Could you live with the City Council decision? How would you vote? Could you stay true to your principles?
The play is Shakespeare in impact
Mr. Letts weaves in the issues of self-perception, staying true to oneself and betraying oneself.
It is realistic in how a city council or governing body hides a lot of the truth to the public and never admits mistakes.
It is unflinching in portraying strengths (assuming there are some) and weaknesses (which are starkly revealed in this play, fear is one) of many representative panels making decisions.
It is unrealistic in one glaring respect, this is a city council that asks a lot of questions. Most councils do not.
One total inaccuracy
The Big Cherry Council lasted 90 minutes.
If you are ever even thinking about running for City or Common Council, Townboard anywhere, Americans, this play will cure you! It is acid reality.
The Minutes is truth.