Even before its first Off-Broadway performance Jan. 9, the run of Almost an Evening was sold out. This was due, in part, to the small size of the house (99 seats), but also the "big" nature of the creative people involved: Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham ("Amadeus") is among its stars, and Oscar winner Coen (co-screenwriter of "Fargo") is making his Off-Broadway debut as a playwright. The Oscar buzz about his new film was palpable.
Atlantic artistic director Neil Pepe directs a cast including Mark Linn-Baker, Mary McCann, Elizabeth Marvel, Jonathan Cake, J.R. Horne, Jordan Lage, Del Pentecost and Joey Slotnick.
The triptych continues at Atlantic Stage 2 on West 16th Street through Feb. 10.
According to Atlantic, "In the world premiere of Ethan Coen's Almost an Evening, three short plays unsuccessfully tackle important questions. In Waiting, someone waits somewhere for quite some time. In Four Benches, a voyage to self-discovery takes a British intelligence agent to steam baths in New York and Texas, and to park benches in the U.S. and U.K. In Debate, cosmic questions are taken up. Not much is learned."
How did the Coen plays come to the Atlantic? Pepe told Playbill.com writer Robert Simonson, "They were sent by a literary agent. He sent the three one-acts. Ethan and I had mutual friends in common, so there were connections. I looked at them and thought they were really unique and fun and original. We put together a reading of these three, plus one other. I always find it exciting when I admire someone's work in one medium and you get to see them venture into another medium." What about the orphaned fourth play?
Pepe said, "When we did the reading, we did another one as well. It was a longer play. It didn't fit as well with these, so we decided to just put these three together."
Coen was around during rehearsals, Pepe said. "I always welcome that. He's been very closely involved, including the casting sessions and design sessions. He's very collaborative."
To view the complete Brief Encounter interview with Pepe, click here.
Ethan Coen has made 13 movies with his brother Joel, including "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"; "Raising Arizona"; "Barton Fink"; "The Hudsucker Proxy"; and "The Big Lebowski." The brothers variously write, produce, direct and edit their films in a symbiotic relationship, even if they are not necessarily officially credited for the work they share.
The Coen brothers won the Oscar for the original screenplay of "Fargo"; Atlantic co-founder William H. Macy starred in "Fargo" (and was Oscar-nominated for it).
The engagement of Almost an Evening marks Abraham's Atlantic debut. He appeared on Broadway this season in Mauritius and won the Oscar for "Amadeus."
Cake recently appeared in Lincoln Center Theater's Cymbeline on Broadway.
Horne returns to Atlantic, where he appeared in The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite. He has appeared on Broadway in The Crucible, Inherit the Wind and recently completed filming the Coen Brothers' upcoming "Burn After Reading."
Atlantic founding member Lage returns to Atlantic, where he most recently appeared in Sea of Tranquility. On Broadway, he appeared in last season's revival of Inherit the Wind.
Linn-Baker appeared on Broadway in Losing Louie last season, and most recently in the new musical Romantic Poetry Off-Broadway. He starred in all seven seasons of the ABC series "Perfect Strangers." He also starred in Broadway's A Year With Frog and Toad.
Marvel last appeared at the Atlantic in Woody Allen's A Second Hand Memory. She won an Obie Award for the title role in Hedda Gabbler Off-Broadway and appeared in the Tony Award-winning revival of Seascape on Broadway last season.
Atlantic founding member McCann last appeared at Atlantic in the world premiere of Spring Awakening, and recently in The Cherry Orchard and The Night Heron. She is on the CBS series "The Unit," and appeared opposite Kate Winslet in the film "Little Children."
Pentecost appeared on the FX series "Starved" and in the Coen Brothers films "O Brother Where art Thou?" and "Coyote Ugly."
Slotnick is a member of Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Co., and has appeared Off-Broadway in The Altruists and on the television series "Boston Public" and "The Single Guy."
Almost an Evening features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Ilona Somogyi, lighting design by Don Holder and sound design by Eric Shim and fight choreography by J. David Brimmer.
Atlantic Stage 2 is located at 330 West 16th Street.
Almost an Evening plays Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Saturday matinees at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM and 7 PM.
All tickets are $45 and are available by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (www.ticketcentral.com).
For more information, visit www.atlantictheater.org.