Ethan Coen gets bleak in three new plays

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Ethan Coen gets bleak in three new plays

NEW YORK - How long does it take while watching Ethan Coen’s new play “Happy Hour” to realize that the title is ironic? Let’s put it this way - it doesn’t take an hour.

This collection of three short, black comedies by a playwright best known as half of filmdom’s prolific Coen brothers is filled with misanthropes, one-way talkers, awkward types, cheaters and the terminally self-involved. There are no happy endings and the whole bitter thing consumes about two hours.

“You’re depressed,” one of his characters says to a morose friend, but might as well be talking about the author himself. “You got like a, a man’s-place-in-society thing and it’s heavy and it’s got you down.”

The world premiere of Coen’s play is presented by the Atlantic Theater Company and opened Monday at the Signature Theater Company’s Peter Norton Space while the Atlantic’s main stage is being renovated.

If you love the movies Coen has made with his brother Joel - including “No Country for Old Men,” ‘‘Fargo,” ‘‘’O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “The Big Lebowski” - this will be right up your dark, twisted little alley.

While the stories aren’t connected in time or space, there are thematic echoes - such as one that poses our planet seeking revenge on humans - and a dark blanket of paranoia that covers much of Coen’s writing.

He is masterful at left-of-center monologues and uses dialogue to show that people are destined to just get confused when expressing themselves and will ultimately misunderstand each other.

What’s it all about? Who knows? “Sometimes a story is not about the story,” one character says. “It’s about the mood.” And the mood here is bleak enough to drive you to the nearest bar for a chance to catch the last few minutes of a real happy hour.

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