Ethan Coen is badly in need of an intervention. This has nothing to do with alcohol or drugs, but rather with one-act plays. You see, Coen needs to be stopped from writing really, really bad one-acts – or at least submitting them to producers or Off-Broadway companies.
Ethan Coen (yes, that Ethan Coen, the Oscar-winning co-filmmaker of Fargo, No County for Old Men and True Grit) has previously provided Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company with two evenings of his one-acts (Almost an Evening, Offices), each of which was tolerable if insubstantial and generic.
Earlier this fall, Coen joined luminaries Elaine May and Woody Allen for Relatively Speaking, a triumvirate of one-acts now playing on Broadway. While the entire project was quite dismal, Coen’s strange curtain-raiser – in which a psychiatrist tries to break through to a belligerent mental asylum patient – won shout-outs from critics for being the worst of all three.
Yet as if Coen’s contribution to Relatively Speaking wasn’t bad enough, now comes Happy Hour, three more half-baked and utterly pointless sketches from Coen that all share a bitter, pessimistic point of view and center on extremely unpleasant and unhappy characters. The two-hour evening is directed by Atlantic Theater Company artistic director Neil Pepe with a very talented cast on a mostly empty stage at the Peter Norton Space.
It begins with “End Days,” essentially a monologue in which Gordon MacDonald plays a barfly who insists on whining endlessly to whomever will listen about current events and sharing his apocalyptic view of the world. These scenes are interspersed with moments where he comes home, shouting at his wife, who remains offstage, and cutting up the newspaper.
Next up is the 1970s-set “City Lights,” where an angry musician (Joey Slotnick) goes nuts after leaving an audio cassette in a taxi cab. Since he apparently gave the Iranian cab driver a fake phone number, he goes to the address of the fake number, which is home to two single gals (Aya Cash and Cassie Beck) in hopes that the driver will call him there. Again, the one-act goes nowhere and ends on the disturbing note of Slotnick wildly cursing off Cash.
“Wayfarer’s Inn,” which takes up the entire second act, begins with a businessman (Lenny Venito) complaining to his co-worker (Clark Gregg) in their seedy motel room and proceeds with them on dates at a Japanese restaurant. Yet again, the content is empty and the dialogue is meandering.
The real fault for Happy Hour lies not with Coen but in Atlantic Theater Company for presenting this endless evening. Were it not for Coen’s film credentials and celebrity, do you really think the Atlantic would be producing this?