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A CurtainUp DC Reviewby Dolores Whiskeyman
The original "Nighthawks" is a classic painting by American Realist
Edward Hopper: Four lonely souls in an all-night diner, each lost in
thought, sit unreachable and silent behind a plate glass window as a sad
yellow light spills across the darkened walk.
It is vintage Hopper, a stark, spare world of shapes and shadows that
evokes a deep sense of loss and need. There is a famous parody of the
painting that places Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart at the counter,
and Elvis Presley behind it, ready to pour up a cup of joe. Down at the
end of Lonely Street is an Edward Hopper landscape. With Hopper, we enter
the world of American iconography.
That's reason enough for any writer to proceed with care when writing a
work "inspired" by Hopper. In Nighthawks the play, author Lynn
Rosen offers a series of vignettes that purport to capture "vintage New
York" as Hopper saw it - that city of disappointment and disconnection, in
which the boy does not get the girl and the girl, it turns out, is bad
anyway. The very concept is impressive and raises expectations mightily.
But concept alone can't carry a play--although director Michelle T. Hall
tries hard to make it happen. The production at Studio Theatre's
Secondstage is a pretty picture, indeed, with a deco set by Greg Mitchell
and costumes by Andrea Sarubbi. With lights by Allen Grimm and sound by
Ron Oshima, Nighthawks aspires to do as Hopper did, and capture the
essence of an era.
But the script gets in the way.
Press materials promise "often haunting, often hilarious vignettes
[that] explore urban isolation and illustrate the human desire to be
noticed, to be loved, and to connect." Reading that, I am primed for a
theatrical punch in the kisser. What I get instead is a procession of
almost unwatchable sketches, badly acted to the point of pain, offering
cliché instead of insight, and substituting a stifling boredom for the
searing loneliness Hopper knew so well. Only, the boredom is mine, not the
characters'--and it hits about three minutes into the show.
There are exceptions to all this tedium: "Office at Night" and
"Nighthawks," both in Act Two, succeed thanks largely by the adroit
performance of Don Scime. As a frustrated bookkeeper trying to get the
attentions of a woman across the street, Scime creates a character to whom
something matters and something is at stake. The other standout sketch is
"Conference at Night," in which Suzanne Richard, Michael Miyazaki, and
Craig Pearman create a comic conspiracy. Richard is particularly
interesting to watch, and Pearman is endearing as a befuddled foreman with
a grudge against the boss. The trio has good fun with the film noir
send-up, but they can't overcome Rosen's maddeningly convoluted
construction. Attempting to impose surprise endings, Rosen ends up merely
confusing the issue.
Much of the fault for what doesn't work lies with the director, who
cast the ensemble piece largely with community theatre actors-- which
means that half the cast is incapable of connecting word with emotion in
any genuine way. That's bad enough for even a well-constructed play, but
the results are disastrous for this one, which offers no throughline of
story to carry us. The most successful moments, in fact, occur when Rosen
settles in with a character and allows something real to happen. But those
moments are few. The rest of the time the play just sits there for us to
gape at, like a nasty traffic accident, until we gather our thoughts and
realize we really ought to be somewhere else.
For a true flavor of Hopper, go to the National Gallery, where three of
Hopper's works are on display. Or better still, visit The Whitney Museum
of Art in New York City, which boasts the largest collection of Hopper
paintings, sketches, and etchings in the world-a gift of the Hopper
| NIGHTHAWKS |
by Lynn Rosen
Directed by Michelle T.
With Lisa Adams, Carlos Bustamante, Julei DeMeule, Michael Miyazaki,
Craig Pearman, Suzanne Richard, Don Scime, Mia Whang, Julie
Set Design: Greg Mitchell
Design: Allen Grimm
Costume Design: Andrea Sarubbi
Sound Design: Ron Oshima
Studio Theatre Secondstage,
1333 P Street, NW
Studio Website: www.studiotheatre.org
Opened Oct. 21, closes Nov. 12, 2000.
by Dolores Whiskeyman Oct. 24 based on an Oct. 21