From the man who brought you (wrote) AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, another play with a very different theme and mood. The Man From Nebraska is about a man's loss of faith and his journey to regain it.
On the surface, the life of Ken Carpenter, a solidly married fifty-seven-year-old insurance salesman, is uneventful: silent rides in his luxury sedan, cafeteria encounters with Salisbury steak and lime Jell-O, visits to his mother in the nursing home, and the minister's sermons at the Baptist church. Then one night he is jolted awake, tortured by the discovery that he no longer believes in God. Encouraged by his minister, Ken decides to find himself and his faith by impulsively flying to London, where he navigates the new and somewhat dangerous realm of British counterculture. Tracy Letts's play dares to ask the big questions, revealing the hidden yearning and emotion that can spur eccentric behavior in outwardly conventional people.
Ken Carpenter, previously a devoted Baptist, suddenly finds that he no longer believes in God. Ken’s wife, Nancy, is shocked and uncomfortable with Ken’s sudden loss of faith and initiates a meeting between Ken and their pastor. During his discussion with Ken, the Reverend learns that Ken’s life is going fairly well, with the sole exception being his mother's declining mental and physical health. The Reverend suggests that Ken should get away from his daily routine and after some coaxing, Ken accepts the idea of going on a vacation by himself. And the play action goes on from there with Ken's physical and spiritual odyssey.
It's a quiet piece for author Letts, shot through with silences and nuances — of dread, loss, confusion, and hope.
The playwright limns the pattern of the couples lives in Lincoln, Neb., with a series of near-silent scenes at the top of the show, as the husband Ken and his wife move from car to church to diner to nursing home. Nancy's first line of dialogue — "They're finally going to tear down that ugly house" — serves as foreshadowing of Ken's own actions. But what do you do once you've broken up the foundations? Do you rebuild on the spot or dig elsewhere?
It's like having a mirror held up to one's own nagging questions about roads not taken. When Ken clutches shakily at his bathroom sink and confesses his loss of faith to Nancy, you want to jump up and wrap a quilt around his heaving shoulders. When Nancy wordlessly nurtures Ken's mother, Cammie (Marssie Mencotti), in his absence, you want to slap him. Why should Ken get to enjoy sex, drugs and art in London while Nancy tends to the messy business of death?
But both the script and the production don't allow easy character judgments to stand. Its a complex play about very fundamental issues that we all face. And "Man From Nebraska" suggests that being lost and uncertain is our destiny. The best you can hope for is another person groping their way in the dark beside you.
KEN CARPENTER, 57
NANCY CARPENTER, 54, his wife
CAMMIE CARPENTER, 81, Nancy's mother
ASHLEY KOHL, 31, Ken and Nancy's daughter
REVEREND TODD, 44
PAT MONDAY, 49
BUD TODD, Reverend Todd's father, 75
HARRY BROWN, 33