On paper, Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s latest production, “The Minutes,” sounds like a smash hit. The cast includes some of the Lansing area’s most seasoned actors, and it’s directed by Mary Job, whose track record for managing challenging material is outstanding. In addition, the script was written by Tracy Letts, who penned the fabulous play “August: Osage County.”
Yet the ball hits the rim and bounces off, primarily because the script is problematic. The play is about a city council meeting in the fictional town of Big Cherry. New councilmember Mr. Peel (Edward Heldt) missed the prior week’s meeting for a funeral, and he’s scrambling to catch up on a mysterious controversy regarding his missing colleague, Mr. Carp (Matt Land). As the council tries to plod forward through the agenda, Peel continues to push for information.
As the tedious meeting proceeds, Peel’s ignorance about the history of the town allows the council members to produce a pageant play about the founding of the town, which is a genuinely funny scene. But after Peel persists in his attempt to uncover the truth behind Carp’s absence, the play takes two sudden turns.
In the first twist, the audience is treated to the single best dramatic performance of the show as Carp forces the council to reckon with the town’s true history. The second twist becomes increasingly predictable, but the cast embraces its horrific absurdity with absolute resolve, adding gravitas to the scene.
The primary issue with the play is that the script is no longer the satire Letts intended when the play was first produced in 2017. Unspooling a major theme about those in power controlling the future because they control history by portraying it happening in a small town is now trite since we witness this happening at state and national levels often. Reality has made Letts’ work antiquated and ineffectual.
The second issue with the play is the unevenness of tone and approach to the characters. The council is made up of several caricatures, including the doddering elder of the group, Mr. Oldfield (Doak Bloss); high-strung, oblivious Ms. Matz (Debbie Lundeen); and blowhard bully Mr. Breeding (Daniel Dye). While they play to their stereotypes for laughs, Heldt’s character is earnest but a bit hyperactive, and Mr. Hanratty (Joe Dickson) and Mr. Assalone (Joe Clark) play it fairly straight. As Mayor Superba, Gini Larson is the epitome of a serious career politician, and she gleams with malevolence when reining in Peel.
The first two-thirds of the script employs broad humor, but it’s possible that the ridiculous nature of the meeting scenario would still garner laughs if played with deadpan humor. Such an approach might have helped even out the overall tone and smoothed the transitions to the last two scenes.
The play will leave audiences with some post-show conversations regarding its themes, but they’re the same conversations that could be had after watching an hour of broadcast news. In terms of sparking timely debate on issues of the day, “The Minutes” is a few years past its prime.
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