Man from Nebraska


A luxury sedan, a church pew and visits to a nursing home form the comfortable round of Ken Carpenter’s daily life. And then one night, he awakens to find that he no longer believes in God. This crisis of faith propels an ordinary middle-aged man into an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. This wickedly funny and spiritually complex play examines the effects of one man’s awakening on himself and his family.
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A luxury sedan, a church pew and visits to a nursing home form the comfortable round of Ken Carpenter’s daily life. And then one night, he awakens to find that he no longer believes in God. This crisis of faith propels an ordinary middle-aged man into an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. This wickedly funny and spiritually complex play examines the effects of one man’s awakening on himself and his family.
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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Sun-Times
...[a] tremendously mature and multifaceted portrait of the the dawn of the 21st century...goes to the very core of this country's identity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810123472
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 8/30/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 136
  • Sales rank: 1,214,597
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

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Copyright © 2006

Tracy Letts
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2347-2



Ken Carpenter, fifty-seven years old

Nancy Carpenter, fifty-four years old

Reverend Todd, forty-four years old

Cammie Carpenter, eighty-one years old

Ashley Kohl, thirty-one years old

Pat Monday, forty-nine years old

Tamyra, twenty-nine years old

Harry Brown, thirty-three years old

Bud Todd, seventy-five years old


The outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska, and London, England


The present


Silences, comfortable and otherwise, should be allowed to speak as loudly as the text. The first few scenes in particular should take a great deal longer to perform than to read.

Both syllables of "lawzee" are given equal emphasis.

Dashes indicate an interruption; ellipses indicate an incomplete thought or a trailing off.



Scene 1

[Sound: suburban street sounds, hum of a car engine. A luxury sedan. KEN drives. NANCY, his wife, looks out the window. KEN drives. They sit in the car. KEN drives.]

NANCY: They're finally going to tear down that ugly house.

KEN: Mm.

[They sit in the car. KEN drives. Sound: church bells.]

Scene 2

[Sound: choir and parishioners singing a hymn. A Baptist church. KEN and NANCY stand. NANCY holds an open hymnal, but they know the song.]

KEN and NANCY [singing]: "All on the altar, dear Jesus, Master, I hear thy call. Somehow I know thou canst use me, I must surrender my all. My all for thee, My all for thee, To give my all to thee, dear Lord. Savior divine, Henceforth is mine, To live for thee, Dear savior, for thee ..."

[The song ends. They listen to a sermon from REVEREND TODD.]

REVEREND TODD [from offstage]: Thank you, good people. And thank you, Imogene, for filling in beautifully on the organ for Mr. Spears, who is visiting his grandson Kyle out there in California. We hope Mr. Spears returns to us safely, of course, although someone told me he's now playing the organ for some hippie heavy metal band.


We'll keep a good thought.

You know, this morning I'd like to take a look at the third part of our relationship to God. Remember, over the last couple of weeks, we talked about the first part, conversion, and the second part, baptism, but now we want to consider part three, Christian growth, and I'm going to tell you a story here that I hope illustrates our efforts to grow as Christians.

Scene 3

[Sound: Muzak rendition of "A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme)." Furr's Cafeteria. KEN and NANCY scan the restaurant, looking for a table. They hold plastic trays laden with Salisbury steaks, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, coleslaw, lime Jell-O, light bread, iced tea. NANCY nods to a table. They unload their food from the trays. NANCY sits as KEN takes the trays offstage, then rejoins her. They pray, briefly, silently. They eat. They eat in silence. They eat.]

NANCY: How's your steak?

KEN: Good. How's yours?


[They eat in silence. KEN smiles, waves at an unseen acquaintance.]

KEN: Hi, Don.

[KEN and NANCY eat. They eat in silence.]

Scene 4

[Sound: television, oxygen inhaler. A private room in a nursing home. CAMMIE breathes into an oxygen mask, sits in a wheelchair, pointed toward a TV show, an inane celebrity newsmagazine. The volume is quite loud. CAMMIE sits. She sits. She breathes. KEN and NANCY arrive in her room. KEN carries a Styrofoam food container. They pitch their voices louder when they speak to CAMMIE.]

KEN: Hi, Mom.

NANCY: Well hello there, sleepyhead.

[They take turns kissing her cheek. She offers little response. NANCY turns down the TV and removes CAMMIE's oxygen mask.]

KEN: How are you feeling?

NANCY: You doing okay?

KEN: You look good.

NANCY: You sure do.

CAMMIE:: I'm hungry.

NANCY: We brought you some food.

CAMMIE: Oh, good. What'd you bring me?

[KEN opens the container.]

NANCY: What do we have-

KEN: We have some ham.

CAMMIE: Oh, good.

KEN: We have some peas.

CAMMIE: Gimme some ham.

KEN: We have some Jell-O.

CAMMIE: Gimme some ham.

[NANCY feeds her, cutting the ham into tiny pieces with a plastic knife and fork.]

NANCY: Natalie called last night.

[No response.]

KEN: Mom?


KEN: Nancy said-

NANCY: Natalie called last night.


NANCY: Natalie. Your granddaughter.

CAMMIE: How's she doing?

KEN: She's doing real good, Mom.

NANCY: She said be sure and tell you hello, and she misses you, and she'll see you at Christmas.

CAMMIE: She working for Kenny?

KEN: No, that's Ashley who works with me. Natalie's in school.

CAMMIE: In school.

KEN: Yes-

CAMMIE: She's still in school?

KEN: She's getting her master's.


KEN: She's very smart, Mom. She's getting her master's at Brown.

CAMMIE: I don't know what that is.

NANCY: Where'd you get those pretty flowers?


NANCY: Where'd you get those pretty flowers?

CAMMIE: I don't know.

NANCY: You don't know.

[KEN checks the card.]

KEN: They're from Zora. That was sweet.

CAMMIE: Gimme some ham.

NANCY: You've got an appetite.

CAMMIE: I know it.

NANCY: Is it good?

CAMMIE: So good.

NANCY: So good, huh.


NANCY: Good, I'm glad.

CAMMIE: John was here.

[KEN and NANCY share a look.]

KEN: Was he?


KEN: Dad came by?


KEN: When did he come by?

CAMMIE: Last night. The middle of the night.

KEN: How's he doing?


KEN: What did he say?

[No response.]



KEN: What did he say?


KEN: Dad, when he came by.

CAMMIE: Not much.

KEN: Was he glad to see you?

[CAMMIE coughs, breathless, dry. NANCY fills a plastic cup with water, holds the cup while CAMMIE drinks, then replaces the oxygen mask over CAMMIE's face.]

Mom, was Dad glad to see you?

CAMMIE: Gimme some ham.

Scene 5

[Sound: television. The living room. KEN and NANCY watch TV: JAG, say. NANCY scrapes at her nails with an emery board. They sit and watch television. They sit. They watch television. A phone rings offstage. NANCY exits. She can be heard talking to a friend. KEN sits and watches JAG.]

Scene 6

[The bedroom. NANCY, in a nightgown, sits on the edge of the bed, rubbing her hands with lotion. KEN enters, wearing pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt.]

NANCY: Did you lock up?

KEN: Yes.

[He kneels by the bed, prays silently.]


[They get in bed.]

Did you set the alarm?

NANCY: Yes, I did.

KEN: Good night.

NANCY: Good night, honey.

[They kiss. KEN turns out the light. They settle.]

Scene 7

[The bathroom. The medicine cabinet fluorescent blinks on. KEN stands before the bathroom mirror. His T-shirt is soggy with sweat. He shakes insuppressibly, weeps, sobs. He grips the rim of the sink, grits his teeth, attempts to regulate his breathing. Can't. Collapses to one knee, runs cold water, splashes his face. NANCY approaches in the dark. KEN struggles to collect himself.]

NANCY: Ken ...?

KEN: Go back to bed, honey.

NANCY: Are you all right?

KEN: Yes, I'm fine.

NANCY: Are you sure?

[She approaches the doorway. He closes the door, talks to her through it.]

KEN: I'm sure. Go back to bed.

NANCY: You don't sound good.

KEN: Please ...

NANCY: Are you sick?



[He opens his mouth to speak.]

Open the door. You're scaring me.

[He doesn't move.]

I'm scared.

[He doesn't move.]

I'm coming in.

[He raises his hand as if to bar the door but stops short. NANCY enters.]

What's the matter? You look awful. Listen to me: Are you having a heart attack?

[He shakes his head.]

A stroke? Are you sick, honey? Talk to me.

[He can't answer. He weeps. She approaches him with comforting arms. He spasms, retreats.]

KEN: No. Stay away.

NANCY: All right.

KEN: Please. Don't crowd me.

NANCY: I won't.

KEN: Don't crowd me.

NANCY: I'm not.

[They keep their positions. They keep their positions.]


KEN: Right.

NANCY: Are you in pain?

[He can't answer.]

Are you in physical pain?

[He shakes his head.]

Breathe. Did you have a nightmare?

KEN: Kind of. No.

[They hold their positions.]

NANCY: Tell me what to do.

KEN: I don't believe in God.

NANCY: Okay. I don't understand.

KEN: I don't believe in God.

NANCY: What does that mean?

KEN: I don't think ... there's a God. I don't believe in him anymore.

NANCY: What do you believe in?

KEN: I don't know.

[They hold their positions.]

NANCY: What do you think you-?

KEN: Maybe we're just ... science. Like they say. Accidental science.

NANCY: All right-

KEN: That doesn't matter. I don't know what I believe in. It doesn't matter. But I don't think there's a man in heaven, a God in heaven. I don't believe there is a heaven. We die and ... we're done, no more, just ...

NANCY: All right ...

KEN: Nobody listens when I pray. We're not rewarded for what we do right-

NANCY: -Ken-

KEN: -punished for what we do wrong-

NANCY: All right.

KEN: Nancy. I don't understand the stars.

NANCY: What does that mean?

KEN: The stars. In the sky. Don't make sense. To me. I don't understand them.


NANCY: Did something happen? To make you feel this way?

KEN: I don't know-

NANCY: To make you change-

KEN: I don't know, I just ...

NANCY: Have you done something wrong?

KEN: No. No. I mean, yes. No, I just realized, I had a ...

NANCY: A nightmare-

KEN: No-

NANCY: A vision-

KEN: No, NO! A, a, a, a flash ... flashes, for days now, a ... clear moment. I don't know, my head is clear! I can't talk about this, Nancy, I don't know what it means-

NANCY: All right-

KEN: I can't, I don't have ... these aren't ... thoughts. This isn't a decision.

NANCY: Okay. I understand.


Tell me what to do.

KEN: Go back to bed.

NANCY: I don't want to leave you like this.

KEN: Please.

NANCY: Please, honey-

KEN: Please go back to bed-

NANCY: Please don't make me go to bed. I don't want to go to bed. How can I go to bed?


Can I get you something?

KEN: No.

NANCY: Something for your stomach? Some milk?

KEN: No.

NANCY: I'll put on some tea for us-

KEN: Don't handle this. Stop handling me, please. I don't have a stomachache, or a headache-

NANCY: All right.

KEN: I'm not sick.

NANCY: Just talk, talk to me.



KEN: I have nothing to say to you right now, honey.


KEN: What can you do?


KEN: I don't understand the stars. Is there anything you can do about that?

NANCY: How can I do anything about that? I don't know how-

KEN: Can you explain the stars?


KEN: Then you can't do anything. There's nothing you can do.


Scene 8

[The kitchen. NANCY serves breakfast to KEN.]

KEN: Better.


[KEN nods.]

Do you think you need to ... you should talk to someone?

KEN: You mean a doctor.

NANCY: Maybe.

KEN: No. I don't know.

NANCY: Reverend Todd.

KEN: I don't know.

[They sit in silence. They sit.]

I think ... maybe I should just sit with this for a while.

NANCY: So you still feel the same way.

KEN: Yes.

NANCY: I don't understand.


I can't pretend to understand. How can something that was there yesterday not be there today?

KEN: I don't know. Are you asking me?

NANCY: I asked you.

KEN: I don't know.

NANCY: You don't know much, do you?

KEN: No.


I'm sorry.

NANCY: Don't apologize.

KEN: I don't know what's happening.

NANCY: Help me understand.

KEN: How can I do that?

NANCY: Did you believe in God yesterday, at church?

KEN: I suppose so.

NANCY: At lunch, at the grocery store, in the garage? When did you stop believing? Did you have a dream?

KEN: I didn't have a dream. It's a feeling. I can't tell you when I first felt it.

NANCY: Sounds like an empty feeling.

KEN: Yes.

NANCY: A bad feeling.

KEN: I don't know. Maybe.

NANCY: Well, isn't empty bad?

KEN: Not necessarily.

NANCY: Explain that to me.

KEN: I can't.

NANCY: All right.

KEN: Empty isn't bad if it's the truth. The truth can't be bad, can it?

NANCY: I disagree.

KEN: I guess it depends on who you are-

[NANCY flings her glass of juice across the room.]

NANCY: That was the truth. Wasn't that bad?

KEN: No. I don't think so.

NANCY: Are you going to work?

KEN: Yes, of course.

NANCY: As if that's obvious.

KEN: No, I just mean ... yes, I'm going to work.

NANCY: Are you planning on telling your daughter this piece of news?

KEN: Why is she suddenly my daughter?

NANCY: Are you?

KEN: I hadn't thought about it.

NANCY: I'm just frustrated.

KEN: It's okay.

NANCY: I'm not mad at you ...

KEN: It's okay if you are.

NANCY: Maybe I am.

KEN: Let me just ... let me just be with this.

NANCY: Maybe it'll pass.

KEN: Or maybe I'll ... Maybe it'll pass, right.

NANCY: Or maybe you'll what? What?

KEN: No, just maybe I'll have to figure something else out.

NANCY: What does that mean?

KEN: If it doesn't pass, I'll have to figure something else out.

NANCY: Something else.

KEN: Some other way.


KEN: Because there would have to be another way.

NANCY: A better way.

KEN: Another way, yes, a better way. An only way.

NANCY: Don't get mad at me.

KEN: I'm not.

NANCY: I'm trying to understand.

KEN: Me too.


NANCY: A better way.

Scene 9

[The office. KEN sits across from ASHLEY at her desk. She eats a bag of food from McDonald's.]

ASHLEY: ... I told Renata to get me an estimate on that Land Cruiser, the Lewises' Land Cruiser, and I'd process the rest of it for her. And she goes, "I did." I go, "Where's the form?" She goes, "There's a form on that?" I go, "Renata, you been here a month, how many of these you filled out now? Course there's a form." She goes, "I only-

KEN: Ashley. I'm sorry. I have a problem.


KEN: Uh. I've had a crisis.

ASHLEY: What's the matter?

KEN: It's hard to explain. It's nothing like what you're thinking.

ASHLEY: Okay. What.

KEN: I've had a crisis. Of faith.


ASHLEY: Does Mom have cancer?

KEN: What? No.

ASHLEY: Is Mom sick?

KEN: She's fine. No, no, it's-

ASHLEY: Oh my goodness.

KEN: No, it's nothing like that.

ASHLEY: My goodness, you really scared me.

KEN: Sorry-

ASHLEY: I thought you were going to tell me Mom had cancer, and then I thought-

KEN: No, I'm sorry-

ASHLEY: Thank goodness. All right now, a crisis of faith. You've had a crisis of faith.

KEN: Yes, of faith. In God.


KEN: Yes.

ASHLEY: Why? When did this start?


Copyright © 2006 by Tracy Letts. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents Production History....................xi
Man from Nebraska....................1
ACT ONE....................3
ACT TWO....................45
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