nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
May 8, 2011
Night Windows is a trio of one-act plays based on the haunting work of the same name by Edward Hopper. Hopper’s painting provides an intimate glimpse through a dimly lit New York City window of the back of a woman wearing a pale pink slip. Like much of his work, Night Windows is a stark, quietly powerful look into the isolation of ordinary lives. Despite an ambitious effort, the artists of The Shelter largely fall short of their aim of translating this essence to the stage.
Brandon Hardy’s set is a clever recreation of the painting with its trio of high open windows providing the audience with a perfect view of the room. The three directors make good blocking choices to ensure the actors make full use of the interesting space. The pink slip of the original painting shows up here on a man, on a blowup doll, and on a woman in a post-apocalyptic zombie future as the writers take exuberant but misguided stabs at re-imagining the stories that could have happened in this mysterious painting.
The first play, Perfume and Maple, written by Melinda Smart and directed by Beth Jastroch, is a cryptic and ultimately unsatisfying answer to the challenge posed above. Emily Robin Fink plays blonde femme fatale Dottie, who stumbles about the stage like Marilyn Monroe on her worst days, while Paco Lozano plays her gruff, thuggish friend Whistle. The dialogue is frustrating to follow as the characters talk around their secret jobs and painful pasts with unnecessary vagueness. The truth, as it reveals itself, is an interesting one but the artificiality of the script and the stiltedness of the performances dull the impact of what is meant to be a heart-breaking portrait of two broken people.
The next play, Freak Closet, written by Beth Jastroch and directed by Meghan E. Jones, is a much lighter, more straightforward work but it comes far closer to capturing some of the moving emotions writ large in Hopper’s painting. Ginger Kearns plays Megan, an uptight woman who sublets her apartment to a slovenly slacker named Zack (played by Michael Kingsbaker). When Megan comes home to her trashed apartment, Zack makes her an outlandish proposal in lieu of the rent he can’t pay. Kearns and Kingsbaker have good comedic timing and chemistry, turning this vignette into a fairly winning one.
The opening image of the last play, Night of the Living, directed by Olivia Killingsworth, is the best of the production, with Mia, played by Belle Caplis, sitting at the desk in the pink negligee pointing a power rifle out of the window. Through a series of flashbacks and communication via walkie-talkies, Mia and her husband Marshall, played by writer Dave Lankford, reveal how their broken marriage was saved by the advent of an unexpected zombie apocalypse. Despite another bold premise, the piece largely lacks the ring of authenticity until the final scene when Lankford takes the stage. The play misses the mark in terms of Hopper but its final scene is a moving depiction of love in its own right.
The painting Night Windows is to many people, including me, essentially a quiet drama of modern loneliness. The attempts made here are, for the most part, too loud and not subtle enough to make a cohesive case for Hopper’s painting or truly compelling theater.