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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.
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.