Almost an Evening is the right name for Ethan Coen's three one-acts (now transferred to 45 Bleecker): it's almost an evening of theater. Unfortunately, the middle third, "Four Benches," is an empty punchline, and the strained final piece, "Debate," never achieves the effortlessly bleak comedy tackled so well in the opener, "Waiting." The slick, spirited cast keeps the show oiled enough to do more than squeak by, particularly Joey Slotnick, who, despite his character getting stuck in a hellish sort of limbo, is never static himself. Operating with a sense of the sublimely ridiculous, F. Murray Abraham plays God Who Judges with such Carlin-like brio that he earns a slap on the wrist from God Who Loves (a fine Mark Linn-Baker): "This is not David Mamet." No, it's certainly not. But by being acutely aware of that, Almost an Evening gets by with a consistently terse minimalism that's matched by Ilona Somogyi's old-fashioned costumes, Riccardo Hernandez's specific and to-the-point sets, and Neil Pepe's economic direction. (Only Donald Holder's lighting was off, but that's more a problem with the cues than the design.) You may have to stretch the metaphor that Young Woman and Young Man (Atlantic founders Mary McCann and Jordan Lage) use to discuss their relationship, but these plays fuck you in the pussy, not in the heart.
In the first half of The American Dream, Edward Albee's revival of two of his early and absurd one-acts, the first thing you'll notice is probably the color scheme: a red and blue chair, divided by a love seat, with a faded background of American stripes and bars, looking more like a circus prison than wallpaper. That's all fitting, for Mommy (Judith Ivey) and Daddy (George Bartenieff) are -- though they seem tame at first -- animals, living, breathing embodiments of that savage (and soon to be savaged) American Dream. However, the ensuing eighty minutes of awkward pronouncements ("I just giggled and blushed and got sticky wet") have aged about as well as the emasculated, shuffling Daddy -- they have little impact. Part of this is the acting, which is either wooden itself (granted, Lois Markle is a last-minute replacement for Grandma) or as paper-thin as the character: as Young Man, who is literally the American Dream, Harmon Walsh bears a huge responsibility on his shoulders, but he neither snuffs out his emotions nor instills the character with a sense of strength, and this leaves his role with a great deal of ambiguity, as does the play (which isn't even theater of the absurd at its finest). As for The Sandbox, which is shorter than the intermission preceding it, at least it and its Angel of Death (Jesse Williams) are swift.