Man From Nebraska

By Tracy Lettsman from nebraska by letts

Directed by Andrew Jessop

At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago

Slow start becomes riveting character study in Man From Nebraska

Redtwist Theatre’s production of Tracy Letts’ Man From Nebraska starts slowly as it has several short scenes depicting the ‘normal’ life of Ken Carpenter (Chuck Spencer) and Nancy Carpenter (Jan Ellen Graves). We see them visiting Ken’s mother at a nursing home, eating at a restaurant, driving in the family car, sitting in front of the TV, and praying at Church.  Theses short scenes are a tad tedious but they serve to establish the dull life of Ken and Nancy Carpenter.  We see the Carpenter’s, from Lincoln, Nebraska, are Methodists Christians living  ‘Christian’ oriented family values. We also see that the middle aged Carpenter’s have lost their romantic spark over the years.

man from nebraska

Then one night Ken has an epiphany – suddenly he has lost all faith in the existence of God! More than that, Ken has lost faith in most things dear to him – his family, his wife, his career and his stilted Midwest lifestyle. Is Ken having a crisis of faith or his he seeking personal freedom as part of a mid-life crisis? Tracy Letts’ drama examines one man’s journey of person self-discovery.

man from nebraska

After Ken’s wife can’t help him, he seeks the advice of Reverend Todd (Michael Sherwin) who tells Ken to get away on a solo vacation to ‘clear his head.’  Ken leaves his wife in Lincoln and heads to London where he was stationed years ago in the US Air Force. Ken’s adventures in the bohemian hipster London scene include a romp in the sack with a horny traveling business executive – Pat Monday (Jane deLaubenfels), getting to know the patient hotel bartender – Tamyra (Adrian Snow) and her artist boyfriend- Harry (Andrew J. Pond). Ken indulges in drink, drugs, disco dancing as he learning sculpturing on his way to find himself away from the inhibiting crush of Midwest family life.

man from nebraska

Is Ken a brave soul determined to live free or is he a selfish man who cruelly abandons his loyal wife and family? You be the judge. Playwright Letts deftly demonstrates what some unhappy middle class men dream of but don’t have the guts to do – leave their dull life and search for personal fulfillment elsewhere.

man from nebraska

Meanwhile, Nancy is a lonely loyal wife who spends time with Ken’s mother in the nursing home as well as with Reverend Todd and his freaky father – Bud Todd (Sam Perry). Over the course of more than six weeks of Ken’s absence Bud becomes a regular at the Carpenter household. Bud, now 75 years old, makes a sexual advance on Nancy who is offended. She still waits for Ken’s return.

When Ken’s mother dies, he has another breakdown in London as he realizes that he must face his family responsibilities back home. The show’s conclusion is vague yet plausible. Will Ken be able to include Nancy in his emerging new persona or will Nancy’s anger prevail?

This powerful work is a showcase for Chuck Spencer and Jan Ellen Graves with nice supporting work by Adrian Snow and Andrew J. Pond.  Stay with Man From Nebraska in the early moments as it will payoff as a riveting drama of personal self discovery.

Recommended

Tom Williams

At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 w. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529. www.redtwist.org, tickets $25 – $27 – $30, Thursday thru Saturday at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through April 24, 2011