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Ethan Coen brought his movie skills to the stage for the fourth time on Saturday night at the world premiere of A Play Is a Poem.
The filmmaker’s latest foray into theater made its debut at the Mark Taper Forum in downtown Los Angeles where a mix of actors, comedians, fellow filmmakers and theater enthusiasts filled the 739-seat venue. A Play Is a Poem, like Coen’s earlier stage works, features multiple one-act stories compiled into a nearly two-hour show.
The plays, directed by Neil Pepe, kicked off with hillbilly brothers of Appalachia attempting and then failing to mask a violent crime before moving onto the following vignettes of American life. Among the attendees were Brad Pitt, Josh Brolin, John Goodman, Ali Wong and Gina Gershon.
Gershon told The Hollywood Reporter she was excited to see how Coen’s filmmaking skills would translate over to the stage. “On a stage he’s not directing it, but on the screen he’s always directing it. It’s just writing it and giving it up to someone else,” she said. “Good writing is good writing.”
Also showing support for the filmmaker was Mae Whitman, who shared that she didn’t know the premise of the plays, but expressed her trust in Coen’s ability to create a compelling story. “We’re lucky enough to know Ethan, he’s obviously one of the most talented people we have out there,” said the actress. “I’m showing up here with no idea of what it’s about, but I completely trust him.”
Whitman offered her thoughts on Coen trying his hand at theater and why she felt the filmmaker might find worth in doing so. From personal experience, the actress shared that trying out different mediums encourages growth in skill and versatility.
In addition to strengthening Coen’s writing and storytelling know-how, branching out into theater also means reaching more audiences, Whitman told THR. “I think their work changes lives, and so someone like him, to come and bring his work to theater, it opens up a whole new experience for theatergoers to have his voice out there,” she said.
Producer and actor Hugo Armstrong, who also came out to support the filmmaker’s latest stage outing, reflected on his favorite Coen work Raising Arizona. “I was watching this thing and I thought, ‘Oh there are people out there, my people are out there. If they made this and they know why this is cool and why this is funny then there’s hope for everything,’” he told THR.
Like other stars who praised Coen’s work, Armstrong said he trusted the writer’s ability to take his talents to the stage, saying that “he has his roots and his head and his heart in the right place.”
Inside the theater, Pitt chatted with fellow stars including Brolin and Frances McDormand before showtime. The hour and 45 minutes that followed brought laughter, shock and jokes catered to the industry folk in the audience, who gave the production a standing ovation upon its conclusion.
After the curtain, the evening continued at an afterparty held at Vespaio. Hollywood attendees, stage performers and Coen himself feted the play’s debut with savory hor d’oeuvres and a flowing array of wines.
Also in attendance were Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy, Judy Greer, Jennifer Grey, Clark Gregg and Aimee Mann.
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