Joel and Ethan Coen created a slew of memorable characters as they made films as varied as Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, Fargo and No Country for Old Men, and Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. With some of the actors/characters, it's hard to figure who was a better fit for whom. John Goodman was absolutely inspired as Gale Snoats in Raising Arizona, and by the time the Coens made Lebowski, it would be hard to imagine they considered anyone else to play Walter.
In Ethan Coen's trio of one acts, Almost An Evening, currently in production by the NOLA Project at NOCCA's Nims Black Box Theater, some of the roles seem written for some of the Coen film regulars. In the first play, "Waiting," Nelson seems written for the likes of John Turturro as the namesake character in Barton Fink. At NOCCA, A.J. Allegra makes the mild-mannered but increasingly agitated character his own. The film Barton Fink included a character (Charlie Meadows) who the Coens specifically wrote for Goodman. In Almost an Evening's second ("Four Benches") and third ("Debate") part, a couple of roles seem to beg for Goodman's presence, particularly the second part's Mr. Boodrum and the final part's bellowing God Who Judges.
Ethan Coen's work is tuned to make jokes while triffling with big ideas, and he's got a great handle on dramatic devices, including a particularly revealing opening in the second piece, about a British spy caught up in some odd exchanges. The middle act is perhaps the most theatrically meaty because it's the least straightforward. "Debate" sets up a simple contrast in visions of an angry, vindictive god versus a forgiving, loving one, and Coen fills it with hilarious screeds. He also manages to reconsider the situation as religion, theater and gender trap, shrewdly squeezing more and more humor out of a simple set up. Together, the three acts make up 70 minutes of entertainment with no intermission. Entertaining performances by a large cast of NOLA Project regulars make the evening fly by, and it's a fun and funny evening at the theater. It runs at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through February 5.