Theatre On Fire has a reputation for unearthing smart, sardonic scripts from writers known for more famous works. ALMOST AN EVENING (at the Charlestown Working Theatre thru Oct. 23rd) by one of the filmmaking Coen brothers is TOF’s latest coup. Screenwriter Ethan Coen mixes the zaniness of RAISING ARIZONA (one of my favorite movies) with the menace of FARGO for an evening of offbeat musings on life, death and everything in between.
ALMOST AN EVENING begins with Marc Harpin waiting ad infinitum in (of course) a waiting room. Harpin contorts his wonderfully malleable face into expressions of boredom, impatience and desperation, reminiscent of Stan Laurel in distress. Even Harpin’s sobs are delightful.
He delivers the goods again in a short play called DEBATE as a smarmy new age pitch man. He’s selling love and good fortune, acting like he knew each and every one of us intimately. His polar opposite at the morality seminar is Jeff Gill in a riotous rant about how rotten we all are, caring about no one but ourselves…fretting over trivialities like parking. (How did he know that?) Gill spews such hilarious fire and brimstone that you wish his character was in every scene.
Between those two playlets is a less successful piece about spies and the people they have to dispatch (with Craig Houk and Phil Thompson). The first scene of FOUR BENCHES is performed entirely in the dark (except for five uncomfortable seconds). Here’s what I’ve discovered from that little theatrical experiment: It’s much more difficult to hear dialogue when your senses aren’t working in harmony. Without my sight, I had trouble figuring out who was speaking and that preoccupied my brain instead of absorbing what was said. Thank heaven the rest of the play, with Houk, Bill Doscher and Jorge Martinez was well lit!
Director Darren Evans gets fine performances all around, especially in Coen’s perceptive gender gymnastics, where two couples (Gill & Lisa Caron Driscoll and Chris Wagner & Kate Donnelly) spar about “feelings” and the usual hot button topics of disagreement. Coen goes right for the jugular and the performers don’t miss a beat. ALMOST AN EVENING, it turns out, is just the right amount.