Last night I attended the opening performance of Man of Nebraska (Thanks to S.!) by Tracy Letts. The theatre was arranged with four sections all around making the stage like a stadium. I’m not a theatre critic but had many thoughts as I walked to work this Friday.
Knowing that the play was about a crisis of faith, I expected there to be a lot of scenes in church and with church authority. Yet, it seemed the play, to my surprise, was about an identity crisis as much as a spiritual one. I’ve often thought that individuals experience 2 crisis: identity (age 18-24) and spiritual (35-45). Of course this is not written in stone and identity is intertwined with spirit.
The main character experiencing the crisis is Ken Carpenter. The name Carpenter may allude to Thee carpenter, carpentry being the occupation. Ken is an accountant, a numbers man, a family man with two daughters (only one is present in the play).
The figure of the Reverend is central. Curiously, t is the Reverend, a jovial and absurd character, is the motive that presents temptations to both Ken — and later his wife, Nancy. The Reverend persuaded both Ken and Nancy to get out into the world; both were given temptations allowing for their sense of self to develop. Guilt has a role in religion and there was a lot of that motivating decisions: Ken felt guilty for leaving his mother in a home (perhaps the rub of his crisis), Ken felt guilty for disappointing his daughter, Ken resisted sex, alcohol, & drugs — but ultimately chose them. Ken is no artist, however, his freedom, his leaving his inhibiting routing, his exploration of creative chaos, developed his sense of self, re-centering him. His mother’s condition – facing death and decay — terrified him into crisis; it also brought him home again. In finding himself, his returned from Oz to Kansas and made the decision to return to the order of his life, and the comfort of home and family. So, the Reverend, in instructing Nancy and Ken to enter the world, deepened their characters and ultimately strengthened their faith in one another.
Acting was good (despite Ken being so fresh faced for a 40 or 50 something), lighting was good, sound was especially notable, & the round the stage format had its pluses (unique and intimate) and minuses (the audience took turns watching scenes from forward, side, or behind). Overall, a provocative and well done show!