With showstoppers such as “Legally Blonde,” “Spring Awakening” and “Enemy of the People,” the 2012-13 main stage series at Ithaca College certainly possesses a great amount of potential for brilliance. The opening of “Man From Nebraska” proves that this season is definitely on track to be one to remember, as it delivers powerhouse performances and magnificent production values that combine to create true theatrical excellence. “Man From Nebraska” is a Pulitzer Prize nominee written by Tracy Letts, who garnered much acclaim from his recent Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “August: Osage County.” The story surrounds Ken Carpenter (sophomore Coleman Hemsath), a middle-aged man who journeys to England in an effort to answer the harrowing questions of faith and belief that have recently caused him to question his religion. As Ken continues his journey, his neglected family begins to suffer and question whether he will ever return.
The cast is magnificent in their portrayals of these deeply emotional characters, despite the fact that most of the characters are generations older than the actors playing them. Hemsath stands out by displaying heart-wrenching emotion in his character as he struggles through a difficult time in his life. Alongside Hemsath is senior Emily Austin as Ken’s wife, Nancy, whose performance evokes the audience’s sympathy with her portrayal of her character’s loneliness as her husband leaves on his journey. Additionally, senior Patrick Mazzella and junior Nicholas Carroll stand out as Harry Brown and Rev. Todd respectively, by providing the play with witty comic relief to help to break up the otherwise serious story.
Aside from the performances, the technical and creative elements of the show also help the production achieve its high quality. The scenic design, by senior Renny Cullen, consists of simple gray blocks, yet they still manage to convey each location without confusion. The set pieces could easily be mistaken for modern art and are placed all along the inside perimeter of the theater. Through Cullen’s brilliant design, audiences can get a sense of the mundane American setting.
The lighting, designed by senior Emilio Martínez Zurita de la Garza, combines with the simplistic set to help further understanding of where each scene takes place while at the same time conveying the somber, dark mood of the story. Associate professor of theatre arts Don Tindall, provides the play’s sound design. His work proves to be is passionate and, through a musical interlude played during most of the production, moves the pace and intensity of the play, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.
Director Wendy Dann, assistant professor of theater arts, provides superb casting and beautiful staging that is simple and yet still manages to perfectly and believably convey the plot to the audience.
Overall, this play stands as a testament to the high-quality productions that the college’s theater program is known to produce. A perfect way to begin this year’s theater season, “Man From Nebraska” exudes so much heart, power and general excellence that it will push many in the audience to move straight to the box office at its conclusion in order to purchase tickets for the remainder of the season.
“Man From Nebraska” will run through Oct. 13 at the Clark Theatre. Admission is $4.50 for students Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and $5 Thursday, Friday and Saturday.