Ethan Coen’s Happy Hour: A Realist’s Dream Come True

Full Disclaimer: this isn’t a play with a happy ending. It goes well with the title though.

Happy Hour, is written by Ethan Coen and performed at The Atlantic Theater in Manhattan (until Dec. 31st, 2011).

Short synopsis:

Act 1 starts off with a drunk at the bar who hates technology/ever growing change in the world, and his fellow patron, who dismisses his rants as just another drunk who is paranoid and doesn’t understand/get with the times.
Act 2 is about a musician who can’t let anyone in and loses a package, a cab driver who is a wannabe musician who altruistically returns the lost package goes out of his, a woman who tries to understand the musician, and the woman’s friend who finds love in the most unexpected way.
Act 3 is about two men who are staying in a dingy motel during a business trip, one goes out and has fun with two women at a Japanese restaurant, and the other stays in with morbid results.

[Ed note: KRAKEN AHEAD!! aka spoilers in a more detailed synopsis…
Also, I’m not an expert reviewer, just going to write about what I saw and what I think I saw. You can read a professional’s review here.

The play, while called Happy Hour is anything but happy. Then again, you’re not really supposed to take the title at face value. Happy hour is more or less associated with bars and discounted drinks.

How fitting that the first act/story starts off in a bar.

The set is minimal. Just have to say how much I love it. Less is definitely more in this case. You concentrate more on the characters without being overwhelmed by the environment.

Act 1: We are treated to Hoffman (Gordon MacDonald) who starts off going on a rant(s) about anything and everything under the sun that he’s read in that day’s New York Times. The unlucky schlub, Koch (Clark Gregg) is there for a beer, but seems to have gotten more than he bargained for that night. Hoffman seems to hate everything, from the Chinese (who apparently has “coal powered cell phones”) to technology. He’s a very pessimistic person who believes everything is out to play games with his anal sphincter (to term it nicely). Koch, for the most part seems to placate him, and occasional tries to dissuade him from his diatribe, only to be interrupted by Hoffman once more. If you’re an idealist, you would hate him; as a realist, you can relate. The person you probably would feel most sorry for at this moment would be the bartender (Lenny Venito), who has to work and (most likely) listen to this man every night.

Hoffman is an interesting character. A xenophobic that’s bitter about the growing change in the world while he’s still stuck in his old ways. He is incapable of love it seems, as he has a wife that “suffocates” him [with love].  At home, he has no one to talk to; at the bar where he goes everyday it would look like, he will talk to anyone and everyone who will listen. He tries to come off as knowledgeable but in reality is seen as a paranoid loon by the other patrons (if they even pay attention to him at all). The act ends with Hoffman coming home, resigned to his fate when he takes out the scissors to cut yet another article for his scrapbook. He seems to want things in his life to change, but doesn’t make any motion to do so. For instance, something so simple as a stuck key in his lock, couldn’t he have used some WD-40? The little things seem to set him off, but again, he makes no move to address it only to throw himself into the paper and his scrapbook. It seems that in his life, the only thing that gives him some joy is the paper.

Act 2 starts off with Ted, a musician (Joey Slotnick) who comes home in a rage. He seems to have left something valuable in a cab on his way home, and due to his own fault of not wanting to make friends in life, he has given the cab driver a wrong number. Instantly regretting it when he realizes that he left his belongings in a cab, he calls up the phone number that he gave the cabbie and tries to tell the owner of the other line his dilemma and hope that the person would help him. The scene then shifts to the owner of the other line. Kim (Aya Cash), just recently dumped by her beau Bjorn, receives a call in which the irate person on the other line berates her for no apparent reason. They then come together when Ted visits Kim to intercept a phone call from the cab driver (Rock Kohli). Kim, being shrewd about having strangers in her home enlists her friend Marci (Cassie Beck) to support her. Ted rants about how meaningless his life seems to be, with him just going through life playing gigs in order to make a living. The cabbie and Marci get together in the end, and a shocked Kim goes on a walk to (where else) Ted’s apartment. There she tries to understand him and be in his life. They make small talk and everything seems fine until Kim touches his demo tape, to which he reacts by erupting in anger and throwing Kim out.

Ted seems to be the ubiquitous character that’s all “I can’t love but I want to love,” and Kim seems to be the “I want to love with no one to love” type of person. For a guy who seems very reserved with his feelings, one who locks it all in a vault and hides it by being a rude jerk to people, is the one who loses his entire life apparent in a tape left on a cab carelessly. In a sense, we wonder if it was a subconscious act by Ted in leaving the tape, hoping that someone would listen to it and figure him out despite Ted not wanting it to happen. It’s also the act in which we see the one semi-happy ending with Marci and the Cabbie hooking up. 

Act 3, we have two business men who stay at a dingy motel. Buck (Gregg) and Tony (Venito) discuss their accommodations. Tony seemingly is down in the dumps, and Buck is trying to get him to snap out of it by inviting him out to an “authentic” Japanese restaurant that is located nearby with the incentive of it being a double date as well. Tony does not end up going, he sees that nothing in life is going his way (an example in which they were robbed during another trip), and Buck who seems to be an optimist (you are what you make of your own life) not being able to persuade him goes off alone. At the restaurant, he is sitting with two women: Gretchen (Ana Reeder) and Lucy (Amanda Quaid). Gretchen spins a tale about how love is great, to which Lucy asks about Gretchen’s last relationship. Gretchen as it would appear, went with her ex-boyfriend to Costa Rica and dumped him during the trip when she slept with the diving instructor. They then discuss the diving instructor and how he seemed to have seduced Gretchen with the tale of his diving knife. Apparently when you dive in the waters of Costa Rica, you can be swallowed up by blowfish, so you would have a knife handy to cut them open so that you could escape. Buck, seeing how absurd this tale is, debunks it much to Lucy’s chagrin, and Gretchen’s disbelief. Buck, after the dinner goes back to the hotel and finds Tony’s body behind the door in the closet, gunshot to the head. We see that Tony survives after all, and that the bullet only “creased” his skull.

What I liked about the 3rd act was the fact that things weren’t what they seemed. From the obvious fact that Tony was depressed when he kept saying that he wasn’t, to the subtle emphasis on the “authenticity” of the Japanese restaurant, to the tall tale as told by the naive Gretchen. All the characters deep down most likely knew the truth to the situations (Buck knowing that Tony was really depressed, Gretchen must have known that seriously a person could not be eaten by a blowfish) but they choose to believe it in order to make their lives seem less stressful, so that they do not have to deal with the fact, and go about their lives blissfully ignoring what is right there. They all come to grips towards the end when Gretchen is told that the only reason that tale was told to her, was in order to get into her pants; Buck comes to terms after he talks to his wife on the phone in his new room about how bad the motel was.

All in all, I thought the play was pretty thought provoking and reflective of the world we live in today. People in their own little ignorant worlds being blissfully unaware of problems that others are going through, people who are so set in their ways that they can’t seem to comprehend or accept change in their lives, and people who are so used to be independent that they won’t let anyone into their lives.

Clark Gregg IMDB –
Lenny Venito IMDB –
Rock Kohli IMDB –
Joey Slotnick IMDB –
Aya Cash IMDB –
Ana Reeder IMDB –
Amanda Quaid’s site –
Cassie Beck Broadway World Page –
Gordon MacDonald Broadway World Page –


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