Man From Nebraska, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Tracy Letts's latest script opens with several scenes of stark, devastating silence and closes with a tense, apprehensive exchange full of pregnant pauses-- clever parallels to the wide-open spaces of the play's midwestern setting and concessions to the fact that what can't be verbalized is better left unsaid. Rick Snyder plays 60-ish protagonist Ken Carpenter--who loses his faith and leaves his wife--as steeped in regret, a man with few words to communicate the dismantling of his beliefs. Letts forces us to identify with this colorless archetype by showing him through the sympathetic eyes of everyone he encounters on his journey of self-discovery.
But contrary to the glowing program note, Man From Nebraska is not a play by or for adults. Instead it seems a play written by a grown child (Letts is 38) in tribute to his parents--or, more specifically, to the choices they made. Fortunately it remains compelling, despite its fairy-tale ending and Letts's troubling distinction between what's morally right and what's psychologically understandable, because of the spectacular chemistry between Snyder and Rondi Reed as Ken's wife and because of Todd Rosenthal's imposing dollhouselike set, which gives the show a strong sense of time and place wherever Ken travels.