Review: 'The Minutes,' An Official History of American Horror

I can’t tell you more about Big Cherry’s secret history except to say that it’s horrifying and surely painfully common. American history...


I can’t tell you more about Big Cherry’s secret history except to say that it’s horrifying and surely painfully common. American history that most of us have come to cherish is full of similar horrors. They must be revealed – just like the furious backlash that inevitably greets attempts to do so. Just look at the state laws, like one in texasaimed at limiting history texts to triumphalist white narratives, or some responses to the 1619 Project, to know that questioning our past can be a dangerous undertaking. “The Minutes” shows how the uprooting of core stories can feel to some otherwise reasonable people like tearing their hearts out. They would rather snatch someone else’s.

But even with nothing but admiration for what Letts is trying to do, and for her choice to use the tools of the genre to do it, I have a lot of questions about how this plays out for a audience. Under the direction of his frequent collaborator Anna D. Shapiro, “The Minutes” doesn’t quite pull off its turn from expert comedy to jaw-dropping horror, which it attempts to polish by inoculating the first half of the room with toxins from the second. Flashes, crackles and occasional flashes (lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by André Pluess) interrupt the bureaucratic satire with foreboding alarm. Outbursts of seemingly unmotivated aggression—two advisers, arguing over the Lincoln Smackdown, launch an attack themselves—suggest the irrational eruption of evil to come.

These mise-en-scène clichés and comedic bits, often at the expense of character logic, don’t really prepare us for the play’s terrible reveals – and perhaps it’s exactly Letts’ intention that we’re not prepared. Who is ever?

Yet in trying to use purely theatrical means to avoid the pitfalls of didacticism into which so many well-meaning plays fall, “The Minutes” instead falls into the trap of bad taste. The council’s commitment to racist pageantry – even Mr. Blake, the only black member (K. Todd Freeman), happily participates – makes a very uncomfortable point when made for laughs. I wonder if the story earns the right to return to similar images later, this time in earnest.

I’m not arguing against bad taste in general, and it may even serve as a cautionary tale here, at least for white people: don’t try this racism at home. Still, I couldn’t help but drift my mind to the feelings “The Minutes” might evoke in Native Americans, whether in the audience or not. Would it feel like their cultures were, once again, borrowed and twisted to make someone else’s point? Would the trade be worth it?

It’s the kind of play you think about a lot afterwards, I kept replaying these questions long after it ended, measuring them against my own reactions to the theatrical tropes of Jewishness and homosexuality, reviewing and revising my opinion on its merits. You can also.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: 'The Minutes,' An Official History of American Horror
Review: 'The Minutes,' An Official History of American Horror
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