"City of Dreadful Night"
If you are interested in a play based on classic Hollywood Film Noir with enough twists and turns to make Mulholland Drive feel like a drive thru, run don't walk to the Collaborative Artists Ensemble's production of Don Nigro's "City of Dreadful Night" running at the Sherry Theatre in the North Hollywood Arts District through June 12th.
This is the story of an unusual love triangle in post WWII New York City filled with intrigue, idealism and shredded innocence.
The play is based on Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting and the characters that inhabit it.
Meg Wallace, Ethan McDowell
Nigro wastes no time in caging each character in his or her own particular hell as Act One, in particular, sets the stage for the rest of the play with its non-stop conundrums, comparisons and curiosities.
Very few, if any, contemporary playwrights can pull off what Nigro does in the opening act.
The language is wonderfully specific, detailed and strong. It leaves little to the imagination and even less for the audience to misunderstand or misconstrue.
The oft-produced playwright and winner of the Playwrighting Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts creates realistic, fleshed-out, human characters, albeit, with gaping psychological and emotional wounds and scars that may never be healed.
The three victims of love in this play, for example, are looking for a brass ring that they may never find.
They do, however, find the fat side of of Nigro's pen.
Steve Jarrard's direction adds substance, flavor and intelligence to the proceedings.
His understanding of Nigro's intense, almost animalistic, and in-your-face style makes the play that much more hard-hitting and effective.
The Ensemble's Managing Director and director of many of its plays, allows the actors to work within the confines of the show, and work beautifully and bountifully, they do.
Like an endless stream, plunging valley or undulating prairie, they grow into the very fabric of the production, the chasms and invisible corners of space and unguarded moments of time.
Chris Caldovino, Meg Wallace, Luke Rampersad and Ethan McDowell
The Southern California native has assembled a deeply gifted cast that comprehends the purpose, meaning and process of Nigro's words all too well.
Stand outs include:
Meg Wallace (Anna) who almost runs away with the play as she continues her courageous work in Ensemble plays of tackling roles that require great intestinal fortitude, but do not reap glory. Here the Marymount Manhattan College student of acting displays a sensitivity and boldness that mark a convincing turn and an impressive body of work as a founding member of the Ensemble.
But it is Ethan McDowell (Tony) who runs away with the show by giving a performance rich in compassion, tenderness and strength.
The Wyoming native exhibits an unusual mix of stage presence, passion and sensitivity that results in a character who understands love and its mighty repercussions and ramifications as well as its glorious and grand possibilities.
The Berg Studios and Groundlings former student naturally and convincingly masters difficult nervous ticks and habits on stage while maintaining integrity and purity.
The new face of the Space Command science fiction franchise does not flinch from playing the troubled Tony. His reason, wisdom and grace leave us, the audience, transfixed in our seats, emotionally jarred and spiritually reawakened.
The film and television actor's rhythm and timing on the third Saturday of the run when this critic saw the play were impeccable and daunting.
I hope to see McDowell on stage in North Hollywood or Los Angeles again very soon.
"City of Dreadful Night," which runs about two hours with a ten minute intermission, then, succeeds because of the many plot twists and turns, not despite them.
This is a powerful play with the ability to change lives. It nor its playwright should be taken lightly.
This midnight dark drama and 3 a.m. calling card is also an incredibly sweet and tender love story that belies all the pushing, pulling and peeling.
The Collaborative Artists Ensemble should not only be proud of its relationship with Nigro, whose plays it has produced a number of times, but of the very high quality of work that it has accumulated in a short span of time in Los Angeles, and mainly, North Hollywood.
This is an acting company with much already proven, but much left to prove.
Its choice of material so far has been nothing less than stellar.
The production of those plays, save one or two, has also been eclectic, dynamic and electric.
May tomorrow (The Ensemble puts on a play every Spring and Autumn) be even more fruitful and triumphant than yesterday as this very talented acting group rides into the future with both feet on the accelerator and all appendages discarded at the very beginning of the journey.
Kudos to all. May the play this coming Fall be even more naked and raw than this one.
If that is at all possible.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.
Admission and Information: (323) 860-6569
The Sherry Theatre,
11052 Magnolia Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601