City of Dreadful Night at the Den Theatre | Theater review

Don Nigro’s noir homage is stylishly staged, but its repeated twists start to lose their impact.



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City of Dreadful Night at the Den Theatre

City of Dreadful Night at the Den Theatre Photograph: Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Fittingly, the Den Theatre creates a cinematic experience for Don Nigro’s hard-boiled new noir play, set shortly after World War II. Retro red tickets are handed out at the door, popcorn is served at the bar, and a black-and-white credit sequence is projected at the start of the show.

While director Ron Wells embraces signature film-noir trappings like high-contrast lighting, stylized dialogue and a seductive femme fatale, he understands the stage is not the screen. Wells builds tension by unfolding the action simultaneously in three separate areas, giving the audience information that the characters don’t know. As we watch a flirtatious conversation on the street between a woman and the man following her, we also see, behind them, her boyfriend waiting in her bedroom; the single stage picture does the work of multiple movie quick cuts.

Fast-talking wiseguy Gus (Matthew Isler) asks his shell-shocked friend, Tony (Sam Guinan-Nyhart), to find out if his girlfriend, Anna (a sultry Justine C. Turner), is cheating on him. The trio becomes entangled in a web of deception stretching back to before the war. With everyone (including the waiter at the diner) hiding something, Nigro twists the story in so many ways the revelations start to lose their impact by the end. The war apparently gave everyone amnesia, and as the characters try to piece together the past, long-buried memories reveal themselves too conveniently.

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