Women or Nothing

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Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing
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Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing
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Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing
4/6
Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing
5/6
Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing
6/6
Photograph: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Women or Nothing

Women or Nothing. Atlantic Theater Company (see Off Broadway). By Ethan Coen. Directed by David Cromer. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins. One intermission.

Women or Nothing: in brief

After multiple collections of shorts, Ethan Coen—half of the filmmaking team behind Fargo and No Country for Old Men—essays his first full-length play. Off Broadway darlings Susan Pourfar and Halley Feiffer play lesbians bent on having a child; David Cromer (Our Town) directs the premiere, with a cast that also comprises Robert Beitzel and the witty Deborah Rush.

Women or Nothing: theater review by Helen Shaw

During Ethan Coen’s offensive, lazily illogical Women or Nothing, brittle concert pianist Laura (Susan Pourfar) admits that most audiences cannot distinguish her work from that of lesser musicians. “They…listen to shit with the same attention they give me,” she grumbles. Seeing fellow theatergoers laughing through Coen’s limp sex farce, I feel her pain. But even the Atlantic’s generous supporters sat awkwardly at the final blackout; inexperienced playwright Coen (his talents honed in film) hasn’t developed a flair for scene length, conversation structure or dramatic arc. So we sat in silence. I, for one, was choking on rage.

Laura and her partner, lawyer Gretchen (Halley Feiffer), want to have a child. Gretchen hates anonymous donors, so she buffaloes her “gold-star lesbian” partner into seducing—this very night!—a friend (Robert Beitzel) from her law firm. Lesbians spermjacking an unsuspecting man? That is painful and regressive. But it’s also absurd. No 40-year-old woman would (a) bank on getting pregnant from a single encounter, (b) spring something like this on her clearly terrified lover or (c) assume that an ordinary guy would hazard an unprotected encounter.

Director David Cromer had one option: to exaggerate the play’s grotesquerie, which glimmers in the person of Dorene (Deborah Rush), Laura’s dragonish mother. Instead, he steers each ill-imagined coincidence as if it were psychologically penetrating drama. Played as realism, the women’s callous behavior only reveals them as sucking ethical voids. These assholes shouldn’t ever become parents—and I’m not crazy about Coen siring more theatrical offspring, either.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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