Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Hour **

(Always click on the title to see the complete review!)
Ethan Coen's trio of one-act plays is the third evening of short works he has done for the Atlantic Theater. I wasn't much impressed with the other two -- and even less so with his lame contribution to "Relatively Speaking" -- so I went with low expectations. To say that this is the best of his three programs for Atlantic is not saying a lot, but it's not nothing. It begins well with "End Days," in which a depressive barfly (the excellent Gordon MacDonald)  rants about the evils of the digital age. His rants alternate with short scenes of his home life. As is so often the case with Coen, he doesn't know when to stop: the play would work better if it ended after the first scene. In "City Lights," Ted, a dyspeptic musician (Joey Slotnick) tries to track down a cabbie (Rock Kohli), in whose taxi he may have left a demo tape. Ted meets an idealistic schoolteacher (Aya Cash), who takes a liking to him, and her friend (Cassie Beck), who does not. Although he retrieves his demo tape, things do not end well. This being the play in which Coen is most closely channeling Mamet, using the C word at least once is obligatory. In the final play, "Wayfarer's Inn," two road warriors forced to stay at a third-rate hotel are planning their evening. The cynical one (Clark Gregg), unhampered by guilt over adultery, is lining up a double date for himself and his depressed traveling companion (Lenny Venito), who decides not to go. A scene at an "authentic" Japanese restaurant introduces us to the two dates, one bodacious and carefree (Ana Reeder), the other (Amanda Quaid), not so much, and also the stern waitress (Susan Hyon). There's a long story about a man and a fish which each of them interprets differently. Back at the hotel, things have taken a bad turn. I was left with a feeling of frustration: Coen knows how to write a good scene, but he still hasn't figured out how to combine scenes into a cohesive whole. I wish his screenwriting skills were more in evidence. The set by Riccardo Hernandez is a bit generic. Sarah Edwards' costumes are fine. Neil Pepe directed. Running time: 2 hours including intermission.

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