Saturday, March 25, 2023
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Man From Nebraska - stellar cast shines under David Cromer's direction

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

It’s not a traditional play. More of an odyssey. A man searching for “something” – a man who has been married, happily it seems until the routine of married life wears thin. Is he looking for an escape clause or has he lost his faith in God?

The latter is what he asserts after a few very brief cinematic scenes with limited dialogue in Tracey Letts surreal production of MAN FROM NEBRASKA at Second Stage Theatre.

The man is Ken Carpenter (Reed Birney). His wife Nancy (Annette O’Toole). Without these two exceptional actors – mostly and beautifully acting the subtext (what is unsaid) under the fine direction of David Cromer this odyssey would simply flake away.

They are seemingly in a rut. Hardly speaking to one another. Driving, eating, attending mass. His extremely sick mother (Cammie – Kathleen Peirce) is wheelchair bound and needs oxygen. So does he it seems. Of a different sort.

He visits with his minister Reverend Todd (William Ragsdale) who gives him odd advice. Which he follows. His insensitive daughter Ashley (Annika Boras) tries to sort it all out. Another daughter (unseen) is the smarter one – she steers clear of them all.

He leaves his wife and goes off to London for an unlimited specified amount of time. Airborne he meets Pat an openly lusty businesswoman (an amusing Heidi Armbruster) who flirts with him.

In London, at his hotel he meets Tamyra (Nana Mensah) the bartender. He quickly learns to drink one of her alcoholic specialties. She reads poetry when the bar is slow which is often and they start up a friendship. Enter Pat who leads him to her bed. End of Act I.

Returning to the bar after intermission we pick up Ken’s journey. We meet the boyfriend of Tamyra – Harry (Max Gordon Moore) a talkative bohemian sculptor. Ken learns the craft. He’s been in London for about six weeks – how is he paying for all this? A small unexplained detail…

Meanwhile back in Nebraska staid Nancy has a dinner date with a guy who expects more (Tom Bloom). The Reverend Todd’s dad. Will she or won’t she?

Back in London Ken lets loose. There is a pill popping dance sequence and that’s all I’ll divulge. Has he found what he’s looking for? Will he return to Nancy? Will she greet him with open arms?

The many different locations are lit nicely (Keith Parham) with all the props and furniture in full view – which are rearranged by expert stagehands. They deserve a final bow with the cast.

Nice incidental music by Daniel Kluger.

The production is intriguing, bizarre, disturbing at times but ultimately unsatisfying. Through March 12th.

Photo: Joan Marcus

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