Ethan Coen Serves You Happy Hour

The Atlantic hosts the screenwriter and playwright's latest short works

Of the three short plays that compose the Atlantic Theater’s Happy Hour, all continue Ethan Coen’s (ordinarily cinematic) investigation into masculine asshole-ism. A stale subject, yes, and despite Coen’s high spirits here, and a crackerjack cast, it remains stale.

The static End Days feels more like a character study than a play. Hoffman (Gordon MacDonald), an alcoholic doomsayer appalled by modern scourges like outsourcing and the “digital smegma” of high-tech information screwing up the planet. He harangues patrons of his local bar, cuts articles out of the Times to prove his paranoid theses, and always gets his front-door key stuck in his lock. Beckett could’ve made poetry of this loser’s repetitive misery, but Beckett’s dead.

City Lights follows a butthead musician, Ted (Joey Slotnick), who spends an awkward afternoon with Kim (Aya Cash), a ditzy stranger, and her judgy friend Marci (Cassie Beck). Kim pursues Ted though she knows he’s a “dream squasher.” The play’s nihilistic denouement—Ted drives Kim out of his apartment, bellowing “Cunt!”—meets only Neil LaBute’s standard for nuance.

Gordon MacDonald, Lenny Venito, and Clark Gregg in End Days
Kevin Thomas Garcia
Gordon MacDonald, Lenny Venito, and Clark Gregg in End Days

Details

Happy Hour
By Ethan Coen
Peter Norton Space
555 West 42nd Street
atlantictheater.org

Wayfarer’s Inn finds middle-management playa Buck (Clark Gregg) and sad-sack Tony (Lenny Venito) sharing a seedy hotel on a business trip. Unable to reverse Tony’s depression, Buck goes to dinner with two extramarital women, again a canny chick and a ditz (ladies come in pairs). While Buck’s out, Tony attempts suicide—the smartest thing any of Coen’s reprehensible manboys does, and the only action that suggests a melody behind their one-note whining.

The acting is sharp and committed, Neil Pepe’s direction a quirky nod to younger directors, and Coen’s writing can reach stinging cleverness, but the protagonists will make you reach for your pepper spray.

 
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