More often than not, city council meetings are brain-draining affairs. Keeping the body politic in shape isn’t sexy, but if any playwright can make such a scenario entertaining, it’s Tracy Letts. For all the epic dysfunction Letts unloosed in his award-winning “August: Osage County,” he’s always able to wring some pretty ripe drama out of the least likely settings, from a so-so apartment complex in “Linda Vista” to a simple Uptown shop in “Superior Donuts.” And with his latest — “The Minutes” — he sets his sights on a nondescript room where banal municipal maneuverings can mask more than what’s on the agenda.
Now onstage at Letts’ longtime home, Steppenwolf Theatre, “The Minutes” rides on “some political intrigue, some important conversations about governance and some less important conversations about governance,” says director Anna D. Shapiro. If that suggests a less-than-enticing civics lesson, she also notes: “It’s super funny, and I’m grateful Tracy has found some humor in this world we’re living in right now.”
The production features a crackerjack cast, including Steppenwolf ensemble members Kevin Anderson, Ian Barford, Francis Guinan, James Vincent Meredith, Sally Murphy and William Petersen. Petersen, who co-founded Chicago’s Remains Theater Ensemble in 1979 and became well-known thanks to his portrayal of investigator Gil Grissom on “CSI,” plays Mayor Superba, who chairs this meeting on a rainy November night. “[The mayor and his citizens] are Americans trying to do the right thing by their constituency, by their community,” Petersen says. “And of course, they run afoul of all kinds of things — the truth being one.”
Shapiro has quite the history with Letts, beginning with directing his “Man from Nebraska” in 2003. But she’s never directed Petersen, until now. “There are 11 incredible actors in this, and getting them all together could create a situation like the NBA seems to be creating right now, where they think, ‘Oh we’ll just throw the best players together,’ and it [turns into] a massive ego collapse. But [Petersen] brings the leadership of his character to the process, which makes it hard for anyone to be the [egomaniac] in the room.”
Through Jan. 7, 2018, 1650 N. Halsted. For tickets ($20-$105), visit Steppenwolf.org