It is clear from the beginning that Ken (Reed Birney) is not happy with his life or from what it seems his marriage to Nancy (Annette O’Toole) in Tracey Letts Man from Nebraska. We see a day in their life like a series of snap shots. Riding to church, church, Sunday dinner out, visiting Ken’s mother in an old age home, watching TV, bed and then Ken dissolving into a towel hiding his sobs. It turns out Ken has been having a crisis of faith. So after 40 years of marriage his pastor (William Ragsdale) tells him to take a vacation. He decides to go to London and on the plane meets a horny divorce Pat (Heidi Armbruster), who does not take no for an answer. A bartender Tamyra (Nana Mensah) decides to corrupt the mid western puritan, and her flatmate (Max Gordon Moore) who’s a sculptor. One week turns into six as Nancy has a crisis of trust and his daughter (Kathleen Peirce) begins to freak out. As Ken seems MIA the Pastor’s father (Tom Bloom) hits on Nancy making her feel even more unwanted. In the end the play neatly wraps up and sells itself out.
It was hard to feel for Ken, as I just don’t relate to Reed Birney, though he is a fine actor. I never feel sympathetic to the roles he plays. Annette O’Toole comes off much more empathetic especially in the end when Ken’s betrayal has caused her so much pain. The stand out here is Nana Mensah who makes you want to know more about her character. The rest of this fine ensemble plays their parts to what little depth has been given them.
Letts does this play a disservice because instead of searching for faith, Ken almost cheats. Bravo that he doesn’t. He learns to drink and then does drugs due to peer pressure. Finally it is art, which has an effect but why? When we finally learn it is his mothers living that have caused this crisis, we wonder why he has made his wife suffer. Why no phone calls, except when he feels the need? Why no contact? Ken is like society, selfish and life is only about his feelings.
David Cromer’s direction is interesting and I loved the scrapbook effect at the beginning.
Faith is in question almost every second of every day, especially in this climate. It would have been nice to actually see a play that actually really address this issue.
Man from Nebraska