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Man From Nebraska

From 33 critic and 189 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Slow, Intelligent

About the show

Second Stage Theatre presents the New York premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts' drama about a devout man who has a crisis of faith. Starring Tony winner Reed Birney ('The Humans.') More…

Sometimes even the most devout can lose their faith. When Ken (Birney), a middle-aged man from Nebraska, suddenly realizes he's lost his sense of purpose, he goes on a wild adventure to find it. Along the way he encounters a world vastly different from his own, filled with chance meetings and romantic encounters that shake him to the core. Written by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts ('August: Osage County'). 


"Tracy Letts' 2003 Pulitzer Prize-nominated 'Man from Nebraska' is first having its belated New York premiere at The Second Stage Theatre in a peerless production by David Cromer with a cast led by 2016 Tony winner Reed Birney and co-star Annette O'Toole. This low-key play by Letts is unlike any of his other four plays to have been presented here. It may leave you close to tears and emotionally drained. The play is not so extraordinary as much for what it says, but what it leaves unsaid." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Birney's unparalleled skill at evoking the dislocations of middle age have never been put to better use...Letts impresses with his depth of vision and refusal to repeat himself. 'Man from Nebraska' strikes me as the most penetrating play about religion to be seen this season...The director David Cromer's finely detailed way with actors makes him the right man for the job...The production remains engrossing, and often deeply moving, throughout." Full Review


"Deceptively little seems to happen in the first several scenes of Tracy Letts' riveting 'Man from Nebraska,' now receiving a superb New York premiere...Birney's performance is exceptional and jarring as this character, who exudes respectfully low-key masculinity, is now bent over in tears...Director David Cromer does a fine job of making the mundane everyday living of Ken and Nancy's home life seem an attractive option for those who require a comfortable safety net." Full Review


"The chemistry between Birney and director David Cromer is nearly as palpable as Ken’s with the people who orbit him at home and in London. Cromer is a devotee of understatement that heightens reality, and in Birney he has the perfect instrument for that. The production transcends even that terrific performance with a company that has no weakness...A dazzler – a great show." Full Review

Theater Life

"Letts’ script is packed with subtext, brought out by an insightful cast and director. Reed Birney as Ken creates a shattering and affecting portrait of a man suddenly without moorings. Annette O’Toole is equally heart-wrenching as his alienated spouse. The playwright is best known for the Pulitzer Prize winner 'August: Osage County,' which was something of a massive melodrama ...He achieves more devastating effects by tightening his focus onto one man adrift." Full Review


"If the script is sterling, what makes it soar is the acting. Reed Birney doesn’t disappoint in his depiction of the spiritually bereft character Ken…What makes this play exceptional is its refusal to supply any facile answers to the protagonist’s dilemma…Letts presents Ken’s Dark Night of the Soul in a deeply human context and, with his theatrical alchemy, turns it into a deeply satisfying story that we can identify with." Full Review

The New York Times

"Though its words are well chosen and artfully placed, Tracy Letts’s 'Man From Nebraska' has a radiant respect for what cannot be said...An uncommonly gentle and compassionate work, which anatomizes characters and situations so classic that they are often dismissed as clichés...Very much of what happens in this production’s ephemeral pools of light feels uncannily like life itself, unaccommodating and bewildering, utterly familiar and gloriously inexplicable." Full Review


"Under Cromer’s suggestive direction, the life of Ken Carpenter (Birney) teeters on some existential ledge between darkness and darker darkness...Birney is marvelous to watch as this decent man struggles to find his moral footing in a strange new landscape. Laughing at Ken’s innocence is not an option, because Birney treats that innocence with respect...By the end of his existential journey, he has not only earned his faith, he’s also earned ours." Full Review


"A beautifully staged and acted production...Birney dazzles as he takes us through Ken's journey from spiritual breakdown to an uncertain new life...Though this is Birney's show, the entire cast is top-notch. O'Toole is particularly moving as the wife who'd prefer the status quo...Cromer very effectively has the many scenes play out as filmic close-ups. The stagecraft overall is outstanding." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"With a remarkable performance by Reed Birney as the title character; an explosive one by Annette O’Toole as his helpmate; and especially canny work from director David Cromer and designer Takeshi Kata, 'Man from Nebraska' is the most interesting drama to come along since Stephen Karam’s 'The Humans'...Letts gives us an engaging and thought-provoking play, without any grand eruptions of the sort you are likely to find in change-of-life, loss-of-faith plays." Full Review


"Director David Cromer has a way of elevating the ordinary. And actor Reed Birney brings complexity to the common man...There is a startling freshness here. None of the characters are stereotypes...There is no sentimentality, no overwrought confessions or dramatic angst. Just the bite of true emotion and the message that no matter how lost someone is, there is always someone waiting to find them." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Director David Cromer does a superlative job slowly sussing out the details and the layers of Ken’s life, loves, and his lost soul that set him out on this journey of discovery, but not such a good job with Nancy. The space is a constant whirlwind of places and pieces making up the landscape of his journey...I would have enjoyed a greater sense of clarity and understanding, and most likely Ken would as well, but the last few minutes are tense and completely engaging." Full Review


"A sensitive look at the limited time we have on earth and how that time is governed by the constant struggle between obligation and desire...Birney encases Ken in a cordial falseness, so that we are never quite certain that he means what he says, a trait that has fascinating implications for the end of the play...A combination of Letts' astute writing and Birney's sympathetic performance never allows us to completely discount his feelings, mired in privilege though they may be." Full Review


"Birney has the ability to make us not just empathize with his onstage alter egos (even when their actions are less than savory), but also see ourselves in his eyes. Fortunately, Birney is just one chain in the link of David Cromer’s sensitively directed and impeccably acted production of this alternatively comic and dramatic work...It’s not in the same league as Letts’ 'August,' but any play that makes us consider what being human really means deserves a devoted audience." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"David Cromer’s direction is of a piece with Letts’s writing, simple and clear. The play’s progression is seamless...No one element of this production clamors for attention, allowing us to take in the humanity that pervades the entire piece...An intimate drama that examines a good man trying to wend his way through a crisis of faith...It seems simple because it’s so basic, but it’s not really very simple at all." Full Review

Theater Life

"Under David Cromer’s thoughtful direction each of the many scenes in the play becomes one more step in Ken’s journey toward heaven or hell...If Letts’ play moves us despite the well-worn path it travels, that’s because it has three major assets: an excellent cast headed by the incomparable Birney, Cromer’s skillful direction backed by a terrific creative team, and the playwright’s ability to create totally believable and sympathetic characters who never amaze but always surprise us." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

“The courage of Letts’s script is that, while Ken certainly gives over to unexpected exploration, the essence of his decency, though tested, is never compromised…If ‘Man From Nebraska’ is the most modest of Letts’ plays in terms of ambition and style, it may also be his most hopeful, in terms of the long game it plays. Under the seemingly always unerring, delicate direction of David Cromer, it is very gratifyingly acted indeed, and ultimately about as touching as you hope it might be.” Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"Mild and slow-paced...'Man from Nebraska' is in no way a sitcom. Its humor is quieter, more indirect. Letts’ own Midwestern upbringing seems to come into play here, in his capturing of the culture of his characters, and the rhythm of their speech...If little is explained, this winds up not mattering as much as it might in the hands of lesser theater artists. These artists feel in full control. The nine-member cast is impeccable." Full Review

Off Off Online

"It’s not clear whether Letts is assailing organized religion, or particularly fundamentalist Christianity, for its oppression of human feelings and its doctrinaire beliefs. Under David Cromer’s direction, however, the silences and ambiguities in the script reflect the characters’ struggles with moral choices that carry considerable weight. Birney is riveting as he makes one feel the crushing, stultifying outcome of living such a life." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"It must be said that once Letts establishes his provocative premise, he doesn’t develop it in fully compelling fashion. The episodic play moves in fits and starts, marred at times by lugubrious pacing and narrative digressions...Nonetheless, under the sensitive direction of David Cromer, 'Man From Nebraska' resonates with deep emotion, its multidimensional characters pulsing with humanity. Not surprisingly, the proceedings are often drolly funny despite the serious subject matter." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"It is a play that will provoke wildly divergent reactions...The play’s episodic structure does not seem organic. Birney, as always, is superb. Mensah is also strong. O'Toole, to me at least, seemed mannered...Particularly in the first act, director Cromer lets scenes breathe longer than some can easily tolerate. I predict that you will have a strong reaction to the play. Whether it will be negative or positive is the question." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"Birney gives a layered exploration of the complexities of being a regular guy who's just not sure what happened to his life, how he got here...O'Toole gives a quiet, understated performance as the tossed-aside wife. Though not fully drawn on the page, O'Toole shows that Nancy is just as complicated as Ken...With no offense meant to Letts (or Birney), in this day and age, the more interesting story might be the one about the woman from Nebraska." Full Review

Edge New York

“‘Man From Nebraska’ is not Tracy Letts' most thought-provoking or exciting play, and there have been better dramas about confused protagonists trying to figure things out for themselves. But it may particularly speak to anyone who comes from a background where certainty and conformity were the rule, and self-reflection and self-discovery were discouraged. And for those who didn't, it may inspire some compassion, understanding, and hope.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"Cromer's beautifully calibrated direction...moves the action from one suggestively defined locale to the other with cinematic smoothness. The journey, however, hits some playwriting potholes...The idea of a repressed bourgeois man leaving home to light his inner fire, while not new, is certainly ripe for dramatization. However, once Letts...sets up his situation, he doesn't follow through with characters or situations sufficiently capable of avoiding the mantle of contrivance." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Letts can do grotesque and emotionally raw, but here he reins in his darkest dramatic impulses. The writing builds up a humane character study, but it rarely raises the room temperature...At its core, the play—handsomely staged by Cromer and scrupulously acted by a fine ensemble—is about choosing a path in life versus accepting what sociology hands you. That’s a perfectly juicy theme, but Letts makes it less a shocking journey to enlightenment than a dutiful stroll round the block." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy a beautifully written play with an amazing performance from Reed Birney

Don't see it if You enjoy a light evening at the theater

Also A beautiful meditation on God and our place in the universe with an am... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you love great acting, direction, and epic hero's journey stories.

Don't see it if you are triggered by a spouse leaving a long-term relationship.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Cromer hits it out of the park

See it if you love beautifully written plays, brilliantly acted, and directed by a genius. The dialogue and silences are so real, so true. Perfection

Don't see it if you are mourning the loss of Jersey Boys. But if you like well crafted plays that will make you think, then go. Lotts is amazing. So honest.

Absorbing, Great acting, Clever

See it if Want to see outstanding acting and an original treatment of an old theme.

Don't see it if Want to see a totally convincing play.

Also The acting is outstanding.i didn't find the theme completely believabl... Read more Read less

Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if You're looking for something that stays with you. If I'd reviewed right after, it would be lower. But I can't stop thinking about it.

Don't see it if You don't like religion, existentialism, unexpected humor or heartbreak...

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Profound

See it if you like great theatre

Don't see it if if you don't like dramas

Entertaining, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Great writing

See it if if you like Tracey Letts plays. This play is simple and yet incredibly thought provoking.

Don't see it if If you don't like shows about people going through journeys to find themselves

Also I have always been a huge fan of Tracey Letts plays. I find them incre... Read more Read less

Resonant, Riveting, Great acting, Great writing, Absorbing

See it if You love watching human development and want a deep show about faith, morals, and the boundaries we set within relationships. Reed Bernie!!

Don't see it if You want a straightforward play with lots of plot. Watching this show requires you to focus on the relationships and realistic living onstag

Absorbing, Clever, Funny, Great acting, Great writing

See it if You like existential, edgy comedy and can get tickets by Sunday.

Don't see it if You have all the answers.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Intelligent

See it if you want to see a play about a couple getting older and finding a new direction.

Don't see it if you don't want to see a play about aging.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Intense

See it if you want to think about a show while you are watching it and afterwards. great performances

Don't see it if you go alone. you want lots of action on the stage.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if Absolutely intriguing Shows how midlife crisis and vulnerability can affect a family The characters are amazing Acting at finest

Don't see it if If you don't like good theater

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging, Profound

See it if you are engaged in your life or feel a need to be. Very provocative especially, I imagine, if you're past middle age.

Don't see it if you're looking for light entertainment.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if you like a perfect use of silence onstage, and incredible acting of very personal moments in a life. So much trust between cast and patrons.

Don't see it if you dislike character development and personal moments being depicted onstage.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Intense

See it if you like plays with REAL SUBSTANCE that leave you thinking for days afterward. Reed Birney is spectacular and Letts is one of the greats.

Don't see it if you want a light evening and are not up for introspection

Thought-provoking, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if you enjoy dramas about real life situations: loss of faith, lack of passion about life, marriage... with a bit of humor to cut the tension.

Don't see it if if you are impatient with long silent moments or if you are looking for light entertainment or action.

Also This play resonated with me as realistic and honest. I know some peopl... Read more Read less

Beautiful, lyrical writing., Layered and thoughtful, Lovely direction by cromer, Excellent cast/birney great., Slow and meditative.

See it if You like theater that takes some risks and makes you a bit uncomfortable. This is thoughtful and rich, multilayered. Will stay with you.

Don't see it if Don't like plays that unfold slowly, looks at crisis of faith, has long pauses and leaves much unsaid. This has delicate, profound beauty.

Intelligent,great writing & acting

See it if You like Tracy Letts plays, David Cromer directing &Reed Birney who gives a great performance

Don't see it if You do not like serious plays that that make you think.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense

See it if You enjoy thoughtful,absorbing theater with excellent acting.

Don't see it if You prefer fast moving drama and avoid discomfort!

Absorbing, Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if You like absorbing plays with good dialogue, occasional humor, and some unpredictable moments.

Don't see it if You can't relate to a "crisis of faith." You don't enjoy dramatic plays.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Resonant

See it if you wish to see reed Birney at his best. Great use of the huge stage It makes one think about LIFE .Not a weak link in the cast.

Don't see it if you want a razzle dazzle musical. Some depressing scenes but that is life.

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing

See it if You want to see excellent acting in a well written show about very relatable characters.

Don't see it if You only like comedies and don't care about relating to others.

Absorbing, Great acting

See it if you want to see a beautifully acted rendition of this play.

Don't see it if you're looking for a play that's a little less jumbly - this is one of Tracy Letts' weaker plays, although it is still quite a good one!

Riveting, Intelligent, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing

See it if you've ever fantasized about how your life would have turned out if you'd made different decisions.

Don't see it if you dislike shows that are slow.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Profound

See it if Verbiage is not always available to us during painful times. This play depicts this perfectly with wonderful acting, staging and writing.

Don't see it if you're more comfortable with thoughts and actions spelled out for you or you can't relate to inner turmoil distancing you from loved ones.

Cast & Creatives (16)