“City of Dreadful Night”

Wow! Either we are getting a lot of these because they are being written by local ensemble members , who of course, want their companies to show their “stuff”, or we are getting more of these because playwrights realize that  our audience are far more sophisticated than other major cities. I prefer to believe that the later is the case. Many of you have probably not been to The Den Theatre, a second floor loft studio in “Bucktown” that has several stages and a wonderful lobby area. They just had success stories with their “Faith Healer” and “The Quality of Life” and are now presenting a brand new play, written by Don Nigro entitles “City of Dreadful Night”. Watching this 90 minute, four character play is interesting as it is about as black and white as the movie mysteries of the 1940′s and ties us in with the city paintings of the famed Edward Hopper ( the coffee shop is almost perfectly matched) , great scenic design by Henry Behel. This is a flashback to the old mystery films and the way they were done in the 1940′s.

Directed by Ron Wells, with a very skillful touch, we have a mystery story involving a gangster who is concerned that his girlfriend is cheating on him and goes to his “buddy” for his assistance. Gus ( deftly handled by Matthew Isler) is convinced that Anna ( the very sexy and sensuous Justine C. Turner) is out with other men while he is off doing his “thing”. Tony ( a brilliant character played to perfection by  Sam Guinan Nyhart) as it turns out is more connected to Gus than meets the eye, and the history between these men goes back prior to World War II, where Tony was injured and is not the man he used to be. Tony follows Anna each night and questions the worker, Philly ( Ben Hertel) at the local coffee shop about her. During the many scenes where Anna confronts Tony, we begin to learn more about the three main characters and their stories.

This is a classic salute to the “film noir” movies of the 40′s that deals with murder,mystery, romance and suspense and surely creates what could be as close to a film on stage as one could get. The lighting is dim ( Cat Wilson) and the only effect we dont have is a constant flicker as if we are watching the film run on the reel through the projector. Shelly J. Crosby has amassed some marvelous props, including some very old coffee urns and a cherry pie that looked very tempting. The costumes are indeed correct for the period and pretty black and white, with the exception of Anna’s red slip and dress, which stand out ( think back to “Shindler’s List”) creating a very special effect. Mikey Moran’s original music adds that special touch to this throwback to the golden days of film.
The production is very tight and offers mystery fans a chance to start figuring out some clues that Nigro plants within the script. While tense, in most spots, there are some comical moments as we watch the characters intertwine with each other and start to understand just who is who and how they relate to each other. Nice work and a very entertaining evening of theater ( or for you movie buffs, you can but popcorn in the lobby and bring it is as if you are at the  original Biograph on Lincoln Avenue or further up the street in Portage Park at The Portage.

 “City of Dreadful Night” will continue at The Den Theatre located at 1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue through March 16th with performances as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.                                        
Tickets are only $25 and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets,com
The theater is located on the second floor and is not handicapped accessible. To learn more about this company and the availability of renting space for new theater companies, visit www.the dentheatre.com

This area is one with limited free parking but there are plenty of metered spots. There are some restaurants in the area, but I myself find that when I am doing the theater’s in the area, my favorite is CoCo, a superb, affordable dining spot located at 2723 W. Division Street. Puerto Rican and Caribbean food that will delight your palate and desserts that will take care of your sweet tooth.I suggest reservations and if you tell them you are attending one of the area theater’s ( Chopin, The Den etc) they will make sure you are not rushed so you can enjoy the meal and get to the theater on time.
To see what other reviewers say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “City of Dreadful Night”