In a Broadway season packed with thrilling plays, musicals and revivals, a dramatization of a small town council meeting might seem boring. Perhaps in the hands of a playwright less important than the Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts, but his fictional Big Cherry bureaucracy at the center of “The Minutes” is anything but tame. ‘August: Osage County’ scribe teamed up with director Anna D. Shapiro for this gender-defying political satire with a horrifying underbelly. The set includes both New York and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater stalwarts, featuring artists like Blair Brown, Jessie Muller, Austin Pendletonand Letts himself, with Noah Reid makes its Broadway debut. “The Minutes” opened at Studio 54 on April 17 for a limited engagement.
Letts’ latest work has received overwhelmingly strong reviews from critics. In a rave review, Naveen Kumar (Variety) calls the piece “cunning”, “sensational” and an “astonishing feat” handled with “brilliant finesse”. He applauds Letts for writing this “thrilling and essential theater that interrogates the present by exposing the way history is written”, and goes on to consider it “among the best new Broadway plays in years”. From the ensemble cast, he calls Brown’s performances, Sally Murphyand Ian Barfordwho “play skillfully against each other”.
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Jesse Green (New York Times) calls Critics Pick’s “The Minutes”, describing the work as “a deeply disturbing piece of history and horror” by Letts, “a master of the American macabre”. He enjoys a number of facets of the production, from Reid’s performance which “combines the aw-shucks courage he brought to the role of Patrick in ‘Schitt’s Creek’ with growing trepidation” and David Zinn‘s “witty set.” Even though Green expresses “admiration for what Letts is trying to do,” he still expresses “questions about how it plays out for an audience.” He concludes: “’The Minutes’ does what a play aimed primarily at white people should do. It shows us how we begin to understand, but still don’t accept, that our privileges are tied to a history of denying them to others.
less expansive, Helen Shaw (Vulture) writes, “Time has caught up with ‘The Minutes’,” as she says the long pandemic delay has dulled the play’s satirical potential. She describes Letts as “a connoisseur of madness” with “a quick pinhead” and notes how he “finds something to cheer about when encountering minutiae”. It also highlights the actor Austin Pendleton like a “laugh a minute”. Still, Shaw writes, “Letts and director Anna D. Shapiro fumble the first pivot to seriousness, and they do much worse than that on the final turn,” which she says ends up spoiling the proceedings.
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Judging by the largely positive response to “The Minutes,” the play looks like a strong, last-ditch contender at the upcoming Tony Awards. Letts is already a Tony and Pulitzer winning playwright for ‘August’ – ‘The Minutes’ was also shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2018 – and this ambitious satire with a shocking finale that wrangles with American history feels like the work which will land easily in the Best Play race. Our users think so too, as it currently ranks third in our combined ratings, behind “The Lehman Trilogy” and “Hangmen” and topping “Thoughts of a Colored Man” and “Skeleton Crew.”
A little harder to predict is how it will turn out in Best Director. Anna D. Shapiro won the award for her previous collaboration with Letts on “August” and scored a follow-up nomination three years later for “The Mother––– with the Hat,” which were her first two Broadway outings. His four subsequent productions failed to earn his individual recognition, however, and in a category that has 21 play and revival directors competing, Shapiro could be left out of the shortlist. As it stands, however, our users believe she will earn her third career nomination, ranking her fifth and last.
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It’s even harder to predict the drama’s outlook in the acting categories. The ensemble has eleven performers and almost all of them have had busy careers on stage: Barford is a Tony candidate for “Linda Vista” by Letts, Brown a Tony winner for “Copenhagen”, K. Todd Freeman a two-time nominee, Letts himself a Tony-winning actor for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Mueller a four-time nominee with one win, and Pendleton a Tony-nominated director; the pillars of the scene Cliff Chamberlain, Danny McCarthySally Murphy and Jeff againas well as Broadway newcomer Reid round out the ensemble.
Although Tony’s board of directors has yet to decide on the category rankings, it seems likely that Reid will compete for best actor for his role as a junior board member who serves as the audience’s entrance into the surprisingly sinister world of Big Cherry. Based on our current assumptions so far, however, Gold Derby users have Letts in seventh place for Best Actor, Jessie Mueller and Blair Brown competing in Featured Actress in sixth and eighth, and Pendleton and Reid both earned fourth and fifth featured actor nominations. . The Actor category is so competitive with people like David Morse (“How I Learned to Drive”), Daniel Craig (“Macbeth”), the three actors of “The Lehman Trilogy” – Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godleyand Adrian Lester – more David Threlfall (“hanged”) and Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell (“American Buffalo”) that Letts would probably fare much better in Featured, which is no less crowded but at least feels more open.
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In the design categories, David Zinn might argue over his take on official small town architecture. Zinn has seven Tony nominations to his name, including wins for the play “The Humans” and the musical “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Given how integral lighting is to Letts’ storytelling, Brian MacDevitt could also land an offer. MacDevitt has an impressive 13 lifetime nominations, including five wins. The two creators also worked on other shows this season — Zinn on “Funny Girl” and MacDevitt on “The Music Man” and “Plaza Suite” — so nominators might very well choose to recognize those efforts instead.
PREDICT the nominees for the 2022 Tony Awards until May 3
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