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.')

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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'). 

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

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


"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


"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


"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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Daily News

"'Man from Nebraska' just goes in circles...It’s a double disappointment from Tracy Letts...Weirdly, Ken’s life-changing question of faith falls aside as he drinks, drops ecstacy and tries his hand at art. Letts raises a provocative idea but fails to follow through. And when a play turns this hollow even a fine ensemble doesn’t have a prayer." 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

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 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


"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

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

The Wrap

"Letts condescends to his hero’s dilemma by making the representation of his religion into a complete dolt...The surprise isn’t that Ken has lost his religion; it’s that he’s not already embalmed...A nymphomaniac, a dullard preacher, an angry artist. You can’t blame the actors here for performing what’s on the page, although it might have helped if Cromer had directed them to look for some subtext. Reed manages to be much more empathetic. In a few scenes, he even dazzles." 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


"If any actor can make you believe a character who says 'I’m spending time with my thoughts on the advice of my pastor' while staring at a half-naked woman on a bed, that actor is Reed Birney...It is hard to come up with anyone else who can imbue such honesty, decency and complex intelligence in the idea of an imperfect Everyman...A nuanced production by director David Cromer. But boy, does this play ever need both Birney and Cromer...Deep, this is not." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Anchoring the familiar tale is a focused performance by Birney who has clearly mastered the art of portraying buttoned-up middle-class baby boomers roiled by inner torment. O’Toole similarly manages to offset her character’s dullness with flashes of brittle dignity while Mensah provides an archly vivacious counterpoint throughout the second half. But for all its humanity and wit, Letts’s play ends up feeling rather schematic under David Cromer’s polished direction." Full Review


"It’s not nearly as good as Letts’ best-known work, but it’s not without interest, thanks in good measure to its lead actors. Birney gives one of his superbly real ordinary-guy portrayals as the searching Ken, while O’Toole is deeply sympathetic as a loyal, confused and increasingly angry abandoned wife...When he finally returns to Nebraska, many weeks later, Ken is a new, improved man, Letts would have us believe...The idea is provocative, even if it’s completely unpersuasive." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"This show is brooding, slow, vacuous, empty, hopeless, and depressing. This is not all necessarily bad…Part blistering critique of religion and America, part human condition, Mr. Letts shows us what happens when a man questions long-held beliefs, as provincial and narrow as they might seem…Frankly, Mr. Letts' play doesn't really answer the question; it merely scratches the surface and explores the topic. If you are looking for definitive answers you won't find them here.” 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


"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

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Edgy, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you want to be taken to another place in life.

Don't see it if you want a consistent show. It gets slow at some parts.

Ambitious, Great acting, Cliched, Interesting

See it if you're a Reed Birney fan. You care about crisis of faith.

Don't see it if you don't need to see another story about an older white man having a crisis and going through all the cliches a privileged white man does.

Also Things only get interesting when the black female bartender calls out ... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Relevant

See it if you enjoy great acting.

Don't see it if you expect to see Tracy Letts' best writing. How would one get a thousand pound block of stone into an apartment?

Great acting, Disappointing

See it if can believe in the the unbelievable reaction to a man in his mid life crisis.

Don't see it if you want to leave in a good mood or feel good in the thoughts that you spent money to see this show.....

Indulgent, Banal, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if You want to see a show about a man's crisis of faith that has him abandoning his family.

Don't see it if You mind watching boring characters on the stage.

Average, Unconvincing, Implausible

See it if stories of mid life crisis, faith

Don't see it if unconvincing plot and characters

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Must see, Riveting

See it if you like dramas about people facing a midlife crisis and how they cope, plays that blend drama and comedy, & topnotch acting by Reed Birney.

Don't see it if you can't relate to plays about a crisis of faith later in life, don't like plays that mix drama and comedy, can't relate to midwest values.

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

See it if you know anyone who has gone through a midlife crisis or crisis of faith. This play addresses these issues with an interesting perspective.

Don't see it if you prefer fast paced or lighthearted drama and don't want to think about personal conflicts.

Great acting, Disappointing ending, Staging is interesting

See it if You are a Reed Birney fan or a follower of David Cromer's work.

Don't see it if You get impatient with slow-paced plays.

Also I wanted to see this show for the reputed great acting, and it was not... Read more Read less


See it if want a very slow moving show that explores a mans belief in god - didnt really keep my interest.

Don't see it if you need a faster pace with activity.

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Riveting, Great writing

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, Ambitious, Intense

See it if you want intense character portrayals & a show focusing on character (vs. plot) development & how each person deals with their own crises.

Don't see it if you don't want a slowly-paced play & quiet intensity. Though most gave strong performances, some moments felt oddly explosive & out of place

Satisfying, quiet steady rythem, strong performances & direction

See it if You enjoy nuanced performance & serious drama

Don't see it if You want something light hearted

Also Reid Birney is stellar as always - fantastic ability to shift emotiona... Read more Read less

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

See it if Slow start. Pace mirrors the rural roots and a time of unease and uncertainty in society. See if willing to pass on fast paced plot.

Don't see it if Angst and midlife crisis aren't your idea of good plot.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Romantic

See it if serious family drama

Don't see it if dysfunctional families with end of life situations.

Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Cliched

See it if You want to see the typical "I lost my belief in God" drama. The terrific acting by a very talented cast saves it.

Don't see it if You are not into mid life, lost my belief in God dramas.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting

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

Ambitious, Intelligent, Relevant, Disappointing, Slow

See it if The rebuilding of a man's spiritual house will put you in awe of creation. Excellent direction implants story ideas better than the script.

Don't see it if Watching simple lives crumble is too Inge for U. Tracy tries to manifest the sublime but lets us down by retreating into domestic strife.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Profound, Resonant

See it if you want to see a master (Reed Birney) at the top of his game and you like familial drama.

Don't see it if you don't like existential crises or female nudity.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Great staging

See it if If you like serious drama that looks at loss of faith and the impact on a family

Don't see it if Looking for light entertainment

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Romantic, Slow

See it if Ordinary depressed Joe has crisis of faith and identity, takes a slomo picaresque journey, and returns a more optimistic man.

Don't see it if You have never questioned whether life could be different if other choices were made, or if you can't stand a slow moving play.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Indulgent, Great staging

See it if you want to see Reed Birney, a Tony winner for “The Humans play a solid role. Playwright T. Letts skillfully uses words.

Don't see it if you don't like dark staging and a plot that challenges your thoughts on mid like crisis.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Indulgent, Slow

See it if you're a fan of Tracy Letts or Reed Birney and game for a measured, intellectual exercise and for quirky character and staging choices.

Don't see it if you're sensitive to sexism--on reflection, I felt the female characters came off as dependent & marginalized & the men thus less sympathetic

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Intelligent, Entertaining

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, Intelligent, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you want to see something that covers a variety of topics and excellent acting

Don't see it if the slower, quieter pace of a play is not what you like

Cast & Creatives (16)