BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
An ironic title indeed, “Happy Hour” presents a slate of three nasty comedies about miserable men.
Written by Ethan Coen of cinema repute, who lately has been trying his hand at theater, the plays display some worthy craft but the sour nature that pervades these stories makes for a dispiriting time.
“End Game” involves a series of increasingly drunken harangues about the lousy state of the world by a misanthropic middle-aged guy.
“Wayfarer’s Inn” regards two business associates sharing a motel room and contrasting nights: The horny gent gets stuck at an uncomfortable Japanese restaurant with two rather dull women while the depressed fellow tries to kill himself.
Perhaps the most ambitious piece is “City Limits,” which depicts a foulmouthed musician whose short temper and careless ways undermine his life. Set in the 1970s (designer Sarah Edwards’ clothing subtly establishes the time), the play’s series of missed connections over the course of an evening interestingly are constructed in scenes that sometimes overlap.
Grim comedy seeps through Coen’s writing but the mean-spirited quality of these stories tends to be relentless and there is no apparent point to them other than as a triptych of ugly character studies.
Neil Pepe, the director, obtains good performances from his ten actors. Gordon MacDonald is effectively bitter in “End Game.” Cassie Beck is especially funny as a suspicious friend in “City Limits.” During the amusing restaurant scene in “Wayfarer’s Inn,” Amanda Quaid, Ana Reeder and Clark Gregg make the most of an anecdote about getting stuck inside a blowfish.
But this capable acting and occasional streaks of humor do not offset the wearying overall effect of experiencing these downbeat plays. If you’ve already bought a ticket to the Atlantic Theater Company production now on view at the Peter Norton Space, expect “Happy Hour” to drive you to drink.
“Happy Hour” continues through Dec. 31 at the Peter Norton Space, 555 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.atlantictheater.org.