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Coen of Uncertainty 

Dalt Wonk on the recent trio of Ethan Coen's short plays at NOCCA

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Ethan and Joel Coen are known for creating a bunch of cult movies (The Big Lebowski, Fargo). The NOLA Project recently gave Ethan Coen's trio of short plays, Almost an Evening, a whirl on the boards at NOCCA.

  Waiting (directed by James Yeargain) opens with a receptionist (Natalie Boyd) at a desk typing on an old-fashioned typewriter. Mr. Nelson (A.J. Allegra) waits patiently on a chair opposite her as she intermittently snaps curt pronouncements like "No smoking" or "The windows are sealed," and, most ominously, "There are no doors." Nelson realizes he's dead, but has he gone to heaven or hell?

  The receptionist tells him he will have to wait 820 years before he can be processed. After meetings with other attendants (pictured), problems with paperwork extend his stay to 8,200 years and then 28,000 years before anyone can offer a clarification. Here, the brio of the actors carry us past the droll inanity of the script.

  The second play, Four Benches (directed by Allegra) begins in the dark and leaves the audience in the dark. We hear two voices — one British (Sam Dudley) and one American (Jared Gore). The men are in a dark sauna, and when the lights flick on, the American is shot with a machine gun.

  We then follow the dapper Brit as he chats with the murdered man's father (Jason Kirkpatrick), a manically patriotic man who wears a cowboy hat and describes his son as a "colossus." It turns out the Brit is some sort of secret agent. In the end, we go back to the sauna, where the Brit meets a Texan — naked except for a towel and cowboy hat. The Brit sheds his accent and decides to give up the spy business, but his friendly gestures are snubbed by the drugstore cowboy.

  The final piece, Debate (directed by Dudley), begins with a confrontation between a bellowing, foul-mouthed God Who Judges (Kirkpatrick) and a gentle God Who Loves (Yeargain).

  "It's the Ten Commandments, not the 10 suggestions!" roars God Who Judges. God Who Loves, by contrast, implores audience members to reach out to one another. Finally driven beyond restraint, God Who Judges physically attacks God Who Loves and gives him the bum's rush offstage, but God Who Loves returns with a pistol.

  The madcap theology is followed by an epilogue in a restaurant, where the actors and some fictional audience members discuss the meaning of the scene.

  Almost an Evening was vibrantly performed. James Bartelle and Kristin Witterschein filled out the excellent cast, and Dan Zimmer designed the effective lighting. — Dalt Wonk

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