He's co-written some of the greatest movies of the past 20 years. "Raising Arizona," "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "No Country for Old Men" are just a few.
But back in 2008, Ethan Coen made his big-league debut as a playwright. "Almost an Evening," his collection of three one-act plays, had an acclaimed five-month run Off-Broadway.
Now it's coming to Tampa, in a production by Jobsite Theater, the resident theater company at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.
"It's a triptych," said David Jenkins, Jobsite's artistic director. "It's these three short pieces, all loosely related, mostly thematically, through this idea of hell. In the first piece, hell is other people. By the last piece you're talking literally about heaven and hell."
Together, the three pieces -- "Waiting," "Four Benches" and "Debate" -- run only about 90 minutes. People involved with the Jobsite production don't want to talk too concretely about plots because they don't want to ruin the surprise. But they'll allow "Debate" involves two gods -- essentially the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, though they're called the God Who Judges and the God Who Loves -- each stating their cases for being the audience's preferred deity.
"The God Who Judges basically comes out and curses and scream at the audience," said Jonelle Meyer, who plays the God Who Loves. Her character addresses the audience and goes to the other extreme, she said.
After that third piece is an epilogue of sorts, in which people who seem to be audience members take to the stage start discussing the evening of theater they've just seen, and debating whether it stunk or not. Jenkins described the scene as "meta-theatrical." Meyer called it "a play within a play within a play."
The New York run was a hit, and featured such big-name actors as F. Murray
Abraham and Mark Linn-Baker. Among the comments adjectives that New York reviewers used in their reviews -- which were almost uniformly positive -- were "urbane," "mind-teasing," "gleeful" and "darkly loopy."
"I like that it's kind of abstract," Meyer said. "It doesn't leave you clueless but it keeps you guessing. It doesn't give you the final answers. It leaves you with something to think about."
Bradenton audiences may not be too familiar with Jobsite's work. But the company scored a major coup earlier this year when Israel Horovitz, one of America's most acclaimed living playwrights, contacted the company and asked to work with them. He came to Tampa in February to direct a staged reading of his play "Sins of the Mother."
Horovitz apparently enjoyed the experience. He'll be back in December to work with Jobsite on a full production of his 1999 play "Lebensraum" that's set to open Jan. 8 at the Straz Center
Details: Sept. 9-Oct. 4, Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28 plus service charge and up. Information: 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.