The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings





Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

…This no-name got hisself a challenge here now, he's got hisself a stake in our little hellhole: He's got to finish his painting. And you know what I think? I think it's gonna be a better goddamned fucking painting than he ever fucking dreamed of, that's what I think! ---Quig to Mae about The Customer

Edward Hopper painted his most famous work "Nighthawks" in 1942 but the emotion it evokes is timeless. Four people in a cheap diner in the dead of night are isolated not only by the hour but by their inner lives.

Douglas Steinberg's play inspired by the painting had its world premiere last night at The Kirk Douglas Theatre. He slashes his subject with melodrama but the film noir themes he appropriates are so valid that the play feels as true to life as if the characters had stepped out of the frame.

In the play, the woman in red, here called Mae (Colette Kilroy), is married to Quig, the waiter (Dan Castellaneta). Seated next to Mae is Sam (Brian T. Finney), a long-time friend of both but always secretly in love with Mae. Passion and greed drive this story out of the shadows and into blazing life, as Steinberg uses the period theme of black market racketeering in World War II to drive his plot.

The fourth character in the painting, The Customer (Morgan Rusler), has often been considered a stand-in for Hopper himself. Steinberg makes him a painter who sits silently sketching on napkins, infuriating Mae in particular to the point of violence.

When their black market meat deal runs afoul of the local mob in the person of Jimmy Nickels (Dennis Cockrum), tragedy looms. In addition to Jimmy, Steinberg has created two other characters who aren't in the painting, Mae's pretty 20-year-old niece Lucy (Kelly Karbacz) and the boy she's fallen for, a sly hoofer named Clive (Joe Fria).

Lucy is the only soft spot in tough tempestuous Mae's life but the softness leads to corruption in the play's powerful finale. All the characters are true to the period. Sam is especially poignant in a bitter speech about his life as a middle-aged hotel bellboy crippled by polio who is invisible to the patrons who toss him tips.

Stefan Novinksi's direction is strong and creative with a cast to match. Donna Marquet's stunning set which mirrors the painting becomes a cage in which these trapped people claw against their little lives. The only exceptions to the painting are two exits at stage left which are out of the painting's frame, one leading to the kitchen and living quarters, the other to the street, allowing the characters to walk in front of the diner and stare through its plate-glass window. The frequent use of the "F" word seems like an anachronism here, though I can't swear to its date of origin. Maybe it feels that way because it wasn't used in films noir. The train that rumbles by evokes descriptions of the old Third Evenue El in New York. Michael Roth composed original music which sounds startlingly like fragments of old 1940s songs. Rand Ryan's lighting design makes vivid use of the huge shadows from the coffee urns which loom off the walls of the garishly lighted diner in true film noir fashion. You'd have to look closely to see that the lady in red actually wore two different red dresses, though they're almost identical in style. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg'a vibrant costume design, especially in the additional characters, reminds us that this is a painting. So does The Customer, the painter's stand-in, who, despite his silence, seems like a puppeteer. The characters bounce off him, they resent and use their reflection in his eyes. He adds the third dimension of the outside world, vanity, the disturbing fact that we are always watched and sometimes even remembered forever.

Playwright: Douglas Steinberg
Director: Stefan Novinski
Cast: .Dan Castellaneta (Quig), Dennis Cockrum (Jimmy Nickels), Brian T. Finney (Sam), Joe Fria (Clive), Kelly Karbacz (Lucy), Colette Kilroy (Mae), Morgan Rusler (The Customer).
Set Design: Donna Marquet
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Original Music Composed By: Michael Roth
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission
Running Dates: August 27-September 24, 2006
Where: The Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 6.
Stage Plays
The Internet Theatre Bookshop "Virtually Every Play in the World" --even out of print plays

Playbill Broadway Year Book
The new annual to dress up every Broadway lover's coffee table

Stage Plays
The Internet Theatre Bookshop "Virtually Every Play in the World" --even out of print plays

©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from