“We were looking for really good actors,” Tracy Letts says about assembling a cast for the Broadway run of his play The Minutes. “And they settled with us!” Armie Hammer interjects. “No, we found them,” Letts says, “We found them all.”
The show in question is a one-act dark comedy set during a small-town city council meeting. In a way that fits the pace of municipal politics, it’s taken a suitably long time to make it to Broadway, where it starts performances at the Cort Theatre on February 25. The Minutes, a Steppenwolf Theatre production, first ran in Chicago in 2017, and become a Pulitzer finalist in 2018, before arriving in New York smack in the middle of primary season. Anna D. Shapiro, who directed The Minutes in Chicago and also directed Letts’s Pulitzer-winning August: Osage County, is back with the show on Broadway, with a cast that’s half-old and half-new. Among the new: Hammer, making his second trip to Broadway after working with Shapiro on Straight White Men, who promises that he “loved the idea of feeling out of my depth” in The Minutes. “I wanted to come back,” he says, “and put myself in an uncomfortable position again.”
Among the returning Steppenwolf cast, there’s Ian Barford (recently seen in Letts’s other Broadway play this season, Linda Vista), Danny McCarthy (To Kill a Mockingbird), Sally Murphy (Steppenwolf’s version of Linda Vista), Cliff Chamberlain (Homeland), and Jeff Still (To Kill a Mockingbird). Plus, there are the new additions of Austin Pendleton (Choir Boy), K. Todd Freeman (Airline Highway), Blair Brown (a Tony winner for Copenhagen), Jessie Mueller (a Tony winner best known for her chameleonic voice), and Letts himself, who’s stepped into the Broadway production as The Minutes’ Mayor Superba, his first time appearing in one of his own plays.
“It’s a good part for me, it’s not like I can look at the other parts I’ve written and say, ‘well, that’s a part I should have played,’” Letts says, adding that the production did go out to other actors, but at a certain point, he knew he would fit best into the ensemble. “There comes a point where you go, well, I’ll do it before we put ourselves in a situation where we’re working with somebody who’s thinking about how they can best show themselves off rather than telling our story.”
Though Letts wrote this political play in 2016, he’s repeatedly insisted that the show is not directly about Trump or Trumpism, and rather about “how we conduct our politics, and why we do it, especially in America.” He was particularly interested in the minutiae of small-town council meetings, and watched hours of absurd and mundane footage from them on YouTube (“if you’re having trouble sleeping, I recommend it”) while writing. “I don’t understand the desire to eliminate government or to shrink government to such a size as is completely ineffectual,” he says. “At one point, one of the characters says, this is the way we conduct our politics. It’s absurd, but it’s necessary.”
To that end, even if The Minutes is, again, not about Trump, Letts felt it was important to get the show to Broadway before the 2020 election. “I’m not on social media,” he says, “This for me felt like what I have to contribute to this moment. Beyond my vote, this is my contribution to this political moment.”