Artist Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting “Nighthawks” has a mesmerizing quality to it—an all-night diner illuminating the dark New York night with its fluorescent glow. The corner window showcases three patrons nursing coffee at the counter, attended by a white-capped waiter. Simple and stark, the painting evokes a big-city loneliness that makes you curious about those lost souls who wandered in for a jolt of java and a bit of late-night conversation.
Playwright Evan Guilford-Blake took that curiosity and wrote a one-act play, Nighthawks, that imagines the moment that drew these four unlikely people together—who they were, where they came from and why they ended up at the counter together.
Though it sounds like a dubious endeavor, this one-act actually succeeds because of Guilford-Blake’s script, strong stage direction by Stephen Vargo and fine acting by the quartet of talented actors. What really captures the painting’s poignant moment, however, are the play’s highly stylized look and feel, which are conveyed by period costumes and set as well as a film-noir acting style.
The one-act begins with a replica of the painting—actors frozen in tableau at the exact moment Hopper painted them. We’re introduced to Donna (Tara Leanne Reynolds), a red-headed looker who’s rendezvousing with her married boyfriend Gil (Terry Chunn); as well as waiter Jimmy (Gene Knepprath), the patient coffee pourer who acts as a conversation conduit.
And on the opposite side of the counter is Wray (Jason Oler), a crippled, black World War II vet whose hidden stories and resentments slowly spill out. Issues of the day—the war, poverty, racism and human conditions—are brought up, explored and fought about. Though all four are strong in their respective roles, the standout is Oler as the complex veteran Wray.
Showing his versatility, Oler returns after intermission as a super-fly pimp in Guilford-Blake’s companion piece, Night Café, another one-act that takes place in the same diner during the 1970s. This second offering is not nearly as strong as the first and fails to capture the essence of an exact time and place the way Nighthawk does. The characters don’t really resonate, nor does it have the same yesteryear romance that makes the first so appealing. However, Oler is a strong presence as Mackie the Pimp, and David Alan Morrison gives an aching performance as an alcoholic actor lamenting on life and lost loves.