Man from Nebraska

By Letts, Tracy | American Theatre, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Man from Nebraska


Letts, Tracy, American Theatre


ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT Tracy Letts is the author of three plays, Man from Nebraska, which was produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2003 and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize; Killer Joe, which has been produced in Chicago, London and New York; and Bug, which is currently playing in New York and has played in Chicago and London. A Steppenwolf ensemble member since 2002, Letts has appeared at Steppenwolf in Homebody/Kabul, The Dazzle, Glengarry Glen Ross (also Dublin and Toronto), Three Days of Rain, The Road to Nirvana, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and the Arts Exchange production of The Glass Menagerie. He recently appeared at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre Company in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Amy Morton. Previous Chicago stage appearances include The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial at A Red Orchid Theatre, Conquest of the South Pole at Famous Door and Bouncers at the Next Lab. He has appeared on television in The District, Profiler, The Drew Carey Show, Seinfeld and Home Improvement. Film appearances include Guinevere, U.S. Marshals and Chicago Cab. He recently made his directorial debut at Lookingglass Theatre Company with Great Men of Science Nos. 21 and 22. Letts will appear at Steppenwolf next season in The Dresser with John Mahoney.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

ABOUT THE PLAY Man from Nebraska premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Martha Lavey, artistic director; David Hawkanson, executive director) on Nov. 30, 2003. The production was directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The scenic design was by Todd Rosenthal, the costume design was by Mara Blumenfeld, the lighting desgin was by Ann Wrightson and the sound design was by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. The music composition was by Shawn Letts, the dramaturg was Edward Sobel and the stage manager was Malcolm Ewen. The production featured Karen Aldridge, Richard Bull, Shannon Cochran, Barbara Ann Grimes, Beth Lacke, Rondi Reed, Michael Shannon, Rick Snyder and Thomas White. Man from Nebraska was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Silence on the Page

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PLAYWRIGHT BY TED THOMPSON

TED THOMPSON: Man from Nebraska is very different in tone and subject matter from your two previous plays, Killer Joe and Bug. Was this intentional?

TRACY LETTS: I suppose there are pretty big differences between Man from Nebraska and those other two shows. For me, though, they're fairly cosmetic differences. Man from Nebraska has more sweep; it's more opened up; there are a lot of scenes; it's not contained in the same boiler-room atmosphere as the other two plays.

But the plays all share something thematically. I'm not aware of the similarities while I'm writing, but they're all about characters who are searching, and searching in a kind of vacuum. In the case of Man from Nebraska, the main character is a bit more mainstream than the other two plays, and that was intentional. I wanted to write a play that spoke to the audience in the theatre--one that was a little more difficult for them to distance themselves from and say, "Well that's not me." As I look around me at Steppenwolf, I see middle- to upper-middle-class patrons watching the show. It was a conscious effort to speak to a greater number of them.

Man from Nebraska is about a man who's questioning his faith. Did you grow up in the Baptist church?

I'm from a small town in Oklahoma, right smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. I grew up around Baptists, and when I did attend church, I attended a Baptist church. So I wasn't writing about a totally alien landscape.

Was Man from Nebraska born from an experience?

I was in London and I saw an older man, obviously from the American Midwest, wearing a sweater that was a little too bright, walking into this fish-and-chips shop, and something about it sparked my imagination. Around the same time, I was driving from California back to Chicago, and I stopped in a cafeteria in Lincoln, Nebr. …

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