According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Almost an Evening

Almost an Evening, a trio of playlets by filmmaker Ethan Coen (of the Coen brothers) will bring many in attendance on big names alone, but any acclaim won't be from the writing. It will be from the invested and informed performances of the actors. Not one is dead weight. If you're content with seeing a wonderful cast make something out of almost nothing, this show's for you.


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Ethan Coen, one half of the critically acclaimed filmmaker duo, has more tricks up his sleeve than the ones that make it to the big screen; he dabbles in playwriting as well. In Almost an Evening, a trio of playlets with heavy, spiritual questions but no answers, Coen has fun with at least the deliberations. And while all three plays have characters that want more than they've been allotted, each premise deals with the issue differently. You may be scratching your head about false Gods, no God, and new beginnings as Coen imagines them, but you'll definitely be entertained by the fabulous cast. Their robust tackling of the flimsy material will delight you even if the writing doesn't.

In Waiting, Nelson (Boston Public's Joey Slotnick) finds out through a series of mishaps with administration, that he is in hell for eternity, rather than the temporary purgatory he thought he was in. He serves the majority of time in a waiting room with nothing but the flurry of typewriter keys, boredom, and his heightened nerves. Occasionally, the Receptionist (Mary McCann), wearing no-nonsense knee-hi's and spectacles, exchanges words with him, but does nothing to alleviate his ennui. “Purgatory” goes from hundreds of years to thousands of years until Mr. Sebatacheck (Jordan Lange), McMartin (A Year With Frog and Toad's Mark Linn-Baker) and Polhemus (Del Pentecost), all partners in the joke, level with Nelson about his misfortune. This play is chopped up into too many little (some silent) scenes, by design or by Neil Pepe's direction, for its 20-minute running time. Given the waiting room setup, you'll laugh thinking of all the times you spent waiting for a doctor or an interview, but Slotnick's performance is even more entertaining. His facial expressions and antics are almost enough to save the play. Almost.

Four Benches is the most reminiscent of the Coen brothers award-winning work in creating mystery and intrigue, but still isn't up to par with what we know and love. The first scene and “bench,” in which two men converse in the dark, starts off well with mystery and dry wit. When the lights flip on, we see the full, er, dorsal nudity of Earl (Del Pentecost), and fully-clothed One(Tim Hopper) in a sauna. One a British spy, is in there for a meeting, but it never takes place. Earl gets gunned down instead. From there, One proceeds to have three other meetings on benches in the U.S. And U.K. While rethinking his chosen profession. Coen makes some fun political references from the American revolution to Hitler in the dialogue, but this short's quality steadily declines from the first scene. Again, the acting is stellar, but there is very little to keep us stimulated beyond that. The story tries to rise above cliches about self-discovery, but never does.

Debate begins with an inane play about the true nature of God, and then a discussion of it by its patrons and those closest to the production. The play is a contest between an angry and profanity-filled God Who Judges (F. Murray Abraham, looking strangely like Moses)and a genteel God Who Loves (Mark Linn-Baker) for the obedience of people. Who will win them over? Which fulfills the people's needs? Not interestingly enough, God Who Loves is revealed as a false God, and the debate between the two intensifies into violence. (How very unimaginative, Mr. Coen. We've seen this theory before, done in a much more compelling way.) The play is then discussed by two people who saw it (Mary McCann and Jordan Lange), and by the actor playing God Who Judges and his Lady Friend (Johanna Day). Both women hate it and use it as a jump-off point to discuss the issues in their relationships with the men who defend its merits. There are some amusing moments (god kicking god in the butt is not one of them) and dialogue, but the play is drawn out longer than it should be.

Almost an Evening will bring many in attendance on the big names of the actors and the writer alone, but any acclaim won't be from the writing. It will be from the invested and informed performances of the actors. Not one is dead weight. If you're content with seeing a wonderful cast make something out of almost nothing in 80 minutes, this show's for you.
Opens April 2nd-June 1st. Tickets: $51.25.
The Bleecker Street Theatre 45 Bleecker Street(just East of Lafayette Street) New York NY 10012

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