by Sheldon Gleisser
I have a tip for anyone wishing to attend Red Herring Theater's production of "Nighthawks," which I saw last night: If you really want to feel like you're watching the Hopper painting come to life, sit in one of the seats that are to the left side of the auditorium.
This is, by my count, the second and a half-ish revival of "Nighthawks," which I saw at Red Herring years ago, and for which I attended a reading of in support of The Drama Foundry in 2011, if memory serves. This Red Herring production may be the best yet; it's tight, funny, has excellent performances, and a truly spectacular set.
Said set, designed by Edith D. Wadkins, built by Will Bros, and lit by Kurt Mueller, is a thing of beauty. Sitting so near it reminded me a bit of a visit I made to Dealey Plaza in Dallas years ago. I was so used to seeing the area that actually BEING in it created a sense of familiarity that was actually rather disconcerting. Had I suddenly stepped into the film "JFK?"
At certain points in the play's spare 70 minute running time, I felt like I could have actually walked INTO the Hopper painting. I'm glad I didn't, and if you attend the play, I also ask you please not to do so, or if you absolutely must, to at least to wait until the actors have taken their bows and exited. The play, written by Johnrick Hole, has taken an iconic American image, re-imagined and parodied in everything from "The Simpsons" to "Blade Runner" and brought it home to us again.
"Nighthawks" is about the murder of a bookie and how the event reverberates, noir style, through the lives of those in the Hopper painting's diner. Jerry (Mike Writtenberry) the night manager of the place, seems a "go along to get along" kind of guy. But IS he? Sarge (Erik C. Bobbitt) the police detective, appears morally unassailable, but is that only because he gets to ask all the questions? How much a cop make these days, anyway?
Femme Fatale Flo (McLane Nagy) has the most emotional connection to the bookie, but does that also mean she has the most to gain from his death? Don (NIck Martin) is the shadiest of the bunch, but how do you define "shady" when everybody is in an Edward Hopper painting?
I don't know that I should say too much else. Writtenberry, Bobbitt, Martin, and Nagy play off each other wonderfully, bringing life to the play (and the painting!) by walking a fine, wry line between film noir, cinema verite, and perhaps a bit of MGM musical. Director/Costume designer Brian A. Palmer keeps things tight and spare, handling his actors with aplomb and ably bridging the play's more realistic scenes with its more farcical.
"Nighthawks" is at the Franklinton Playhouse, 566 West Rich street in Columbus. It plays Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sunday at 2:00 PM through July 28. I say shrug on that trench coat and check it out.