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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street

By Jessica Branch

  Joey Slotnick and Mark Linn-Baker/Ph:Doug Hamilton

The self-deprecating title of this 80-minute entertainment is as deceptive as it is accurate. Ethan Coen's one-acts are longer than skits, but only just. They each touch on the legendary big questions of life and death, heaven and hell, god and man, but don't arrive at any lasting answers-or even necessarily any denouements. But for all their brevity, levity, and inconclusiveness, they may be all the more satisfying-and even thought-provoking-than many three-hour dramas.

Waiting, the first sketch, follows a likeable average Joe (in fact, Joey Slotnick) who finds himself in an antechamber to the afterlife, where he's forced to wait for, well, not quite an eternity. The script - and the setting - has the feel of an early Feiffer cartoon, as the protagonist finds himself at the mercy of forces beyond his comprehension: bureaucracy. Next, Four Benches depicts the crise de foi of a British secret agent (Tim Hopper) who comes face-to-fact with the seaminess of his calling and decides to embrace a life of openness and candor: He starts in a steam bath in Texas. And lastly, in Debate, we watch a play-within-a-skit in which a raging, foulmouthed Old Testament God (F. Murray Abraham) spars with an accepting, pluralistic, smooth-talking New Testament deity (Mark Linn-Baker), after which everybody, including the audience, decamps to dinner and dissections of the play as the sketch trails off into oblivion.

The plays, and the issues with which they're concerned, hearken back to the genres of the last century (as so much of the Coen Brothers' pastiche-driven cinematic work also does), and director Neil Pepe keeps the echoes evocative but never lets them overpower the sketches' immediacy, allowing the actors' skills to shine through. Abraham's God Who Judges, with his exhortations that sound just as exasperated as you'd expect, given that he's been insisting on the same commandments (They're not the Ten Suggestions) for some 2,000 years already. But those in less overpowering roles also deserve mention. Hopper's secret agent manages to be at once utterly repressed and entirely transparent, while Johanna Day,as a disgruntled dinner companion, picks holes in the god-on-god match like a professional theatergoer. Still, despite her dissatisfaction, there are few theatrical evenings (or even almost evenings) that leave audience more likely to follow the characters' example and actually discuss the play over their after-theater dinners.


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