Circle goes Coen with ‘Evening’ of one-acts
"Almost an Evening" director Christopher Brown, (right), confers with actor Ian Paul Custer during a rehearsal. | Photo by Bob Knuth
Circle Theatre, 1010 Madison St., Oak Park
June 2-July 8 shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Additional performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, June 14, 21 and 28. Previews at 8 p.m. June 2 and 5; opens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 6
Tickets: $24-$28; $26 for students and senior citizens; $15 for previews
Call (708) 660-9540 or visit www.circle-theatre.org
Updated: May 30, 2012 3:45PM
Is hell a place, a state of mind,
or perhaps an evening of three
one-act comedies by one-half
of the darkly comic, occasionally downright misanthropic, Oscar-winning Coen brothers writing/directing team?
Actually, it appears to be all three at once and probably considerably more in Ethan Coen’s playwriting debut, a trio of short one-act plays that premiered off-Broadway four years ago. “Almost an Evening” will make its Chicago-area debut June 8, previews June 2 and 5, in a studio production at Oak Park’s Circle Theatre.
New York Times critic Ben Brantley described “Almost an Evening” as a throwback of sorts to the sort of “urbane, mind-teasing divertissements that once flourished off-Broadway.”
But director J. Christopher Brown assures Coen brothers fans (of which he is one) that the show also plays in many ways like one of their films — sometimes in ways that present logistical difficulties.
“It’s a lot of fun, but it comes with quite a few challenges, as we’ve been discovering,” said Brown, a Chicago actor/director/teacher who has also directed productions of “Twelfth Night” and “Alice in Wonderland” for Circle’s Emerging Artists Program. “Ethan Coen is primarily a screenwriter, of course, and he’s written this show in a way that might typically be associated with a screenplay.
“Especially the way locations jump from scene to scene in real time, which is a lot easier, I can tell you, when you’re able move your camera from location to location and edit it all together.”
Nonetheless, Brown reports that he, his cast and crew have contrived to accommodate Coen’s cinematic imagination. In “Waiting,” a man spends a considerable amount of time in an office reception area/afterlife purgatory, before learning there’s something he hasn’t been told.
In “Four Benches,” a low-level secret agent grapples with his conscience (while sitting in steam baths in New York and Texas and parks in Russia and the U.K.) about the collateral damage inherent in his trade.
In “The Debate,” a wrathful Old Testament God compares notes with a namby-pamby New Testament God about the nature of mankind, apparently for the amusement of a crowd of theater-goers.
Brown said the thing he enjoys the most about “Almost an Evening” is the way it summons up the dark comedy, cynicism and absurdity of the Coen brothers at their best, while also handling ambitious ideas with a light touch.
“The cool thing about it is that the plays are shorter, bite-sized pieces, but they still have a big impact,” he said. “They present some pretty big ideas, without belaboring them and taking three hours to make their point.”
“Almost an Evening” will be the first in a new series of studio productions at Circle’s new location, in a 60-seat theater, which probably didn’t make the task of presenting all those ideas and far-flung locations any easier.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty intimate space,” Brown said. “But don’t worry. It’s small, but we’re packing a whole lot of theater into it.”