Unfortunately, the play bloats and unravels in Act 2. Another character from beyond the painting staggers into the diner — a thug, Jimmy Nickels (Dennis Cockrum), who makes the threatened violence manifest. Quig, Sam and Mae find themselves extorted by the Mob, and some of their actions to obtain desperately needed cash strain credulity. Meanwhile, Novinski’s ice sculpture melts into a melodramatic showdown, as though Steinberg is gleefully contriving action like a kid at a pinball machine, rather than weighing what that action might mean philosophically. There’s also the unanswered question of why, in 1942, young, smarmy Clive isn’t off fighting Nazis or the Japanese.
All of which deflates the hopes for a great American drama spun from a great American painting. Home, a tender play by David Storey that shares the stasis inherent in Nighthawks, consists of simple, deceptively inane dialogues that reveal intimacy and icy gulfs between the eccentric characters. Ever so slowly, it becomes clear that the characters are residents of a lunatic asylum, which is an emblem for the country (Great Britain) and the world.
That kind of restraint and elegant simplicity might salvage Steinberg’s play, that kind of commitment to a point of view rather than a course of action. Meanwhile, the acting is superb, the premise is glorious and the promise remains strong. When Sunday in the Park With Georgeopened off Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club, only the first act was written, and that was patchy. CTG’s production of Nighthawkssimilarly offers a preview of what this play can be.
NIGHTHAWKS | By DOUGLAS STEINBERG | CENTER THEATRE GROUP at the KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772 | Through September 24