×

Happy Hour

With or without his brother Joel, Ethan Coen has long been partial to characters who function beyond the social pale.

With:
With: Gordon MacDonald, Clark Gregg, Lenny Venito, Ana Reeder, Rock Kohli, Joey Slotnick, Aya Cash, Cassie Beck, Amanda Quaid, Susan Hyon.

With or without his brother Joel, Ethan Coen has long been partial to characters who function beyond the social pale. (The protagonist of his creative contribution to “Relatively Speaking,” now playing on Broadway, is a murderous psychopath.) Although there are no actual criminals in “Happy Hour,” the misfits, losers, and malcontents in this omnibus of one-act plays are still pretty sour specimens of humanity. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but for some reason, scribe has also made them devoid of any redeeming charm whatsoever. Which is exactly how helmer Neil Pepe has cast, directed, and essentially damned them.

Hoffman (Gordon MacDonald), the central character in “End Days,” is far and away the crankiest one in the bunch. A doom-and-gloom merchant who combs the newspapers for every sign that mankind is going down the tubes, Hoffman takes his discontent from one bar to another, ranting and raving to perfect strangers about wars, energy crises, global contraction, galloping consumption, and all the other “serious social shit” that’s driving him crazy. The man actually makes some intelligent points, but his rage makes him so incoherent, he’s a galloping bore.

Ted (Joey Slotnick), the 1970s session musician in “City Lights,” is no more sociable (or less boring), but his self-loathing makes him marginally more sympathetic — at least, to the first grade teacher who overlooks his atrocious manners because she finds him “sad and lonely.” But Coen squashes that compassion as effectively as he undermined whatever respect we might have felt for Hoffman’s intelligence.

And just to give himself a perfect batting average, scribe also demolishes any attention-must-be-paid concern for the sad-sack traveling salesmen in “Wayfarer’s Inn.” Shooting the breeze in their cheap motel room, Buck (Clark Gregg), an enthusiastic womanizer, and his depressive pal Tony (Lenny Venito) get into an existential discussion about the alienation of modern life that isn’t half bad. But, true to form, Coen veers off-point into the mannered conversation of a surreal dinner date.

Coen’s world view is dyspeptic to say the least, but the last thing any play about alienation needs is an alienating production. The curious thing about this show is how conscientiously helmer Neil Pepe (the Atlantic’s a.d.) works to keep the material from being fun. The sets are dismal, the production style is lugubrious, and the quirky characters ill-served by the dour performances.

Coen can certainly write a scathing line. A character in a morbid funk tries to reassure a friend that he’s not really suicidal “I’m just feeling a little, I don’t know — Canadian.” (Which is just plain brilliant.)

But he desperately needs a dramaturg, or an editor, or maybe just a director who knows how to save him from himself.

Popular on Variety

Happy Hour

Peter Norton Space, 160 seats; $65 top

Production: An Atlantic Theater Company presentation of three one-act plays in two acts by Ethan Cohen. Directed by Neil Pepe.

Creative: Sets, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Sarah Edwards; lighting, Jason Lyons; sound, David Van Tieghem; production stage manager, Alison DeSantis. Opened Dec. 5, 2011. Reviewed Dec. 1. Running time: TWO HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast: With: Gordon MacDonald, Clark Gregg, Lenny Venito, Ana Reeder, Rock Kohli, Joey Slotnick, Aya Cash, Cassie Beck, Amanda Quaid, Susan Hyon.

More Legit

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

  • Bat Out of Hell review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Bat Out of Hell'

    No one has ever accused Jim Steinman of subtlety. The composer behind Meat Loaf’s 1977 “Bat Out of Hell” (more than 43 million albums sold worldwide) and 1993’s “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell” (five and six times platinum in the UK and US) has forever trafficked in a boldly theatrical brand of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content