A pair of aging partners in murder-for-pay meet in a rundown diner for breakfast (and playwrights-only-know what else) in Dennis A. Pratt & Robert Vincent O’Neil’s crackerjack comedy-mystery-suspense thriller Night Hawks, now getting a much deserved extension at North Hollywood’s Crown City Theatre.

Co-directors Barry Pearl and O’Neil open Night Hawks with a bang, or actually about nine of them if I counted those gun shots correctly before blood-red lights come up on a diner strewn with bodies. Then, one by one, the corpses rise in slow-mo, and like film spun in reverse, rewind us back in time to the fateful early morning that sets events in motion.

Photo 1fds  Veteran hit man Harry (Gary Lee Reed) is Felix to Ray’s (Matthew Kimbrough) Oscar, though we don’t immediately learn the reason for this umpteenth meeting in the killers’ thirty-year odd-couple partnership.

Why, we wonder, is this morning’s get-together not taking place in the pair’s usual deli of choice, but instead in the crummiest wreck of a diner you could possibly imagine, a diner so ratty that nebbishy, germaphobic Harry disinfects his and Ray’s silverware before his considerably less couth, barrel-chested lug of a partner arrives with a “What the fuck are we doing here?” expression on his weathered face.

The diner’s young but already downtrodden waitress Sadie (Katherine Malak) brings each man his coffee, and if her psychic skills seem surprisingly well honed (she correctly surmises decaf for Harry and regular for Ray), they pale in comparison to Harry’s Holmesian deductive powers when accurately describing Sadie’s miserable existence down to the slightest detail. (With a life like Sadie’s, it’s no wonder the mouthy waitress has learned to give as good as she gets.)

Harry’s reason for summoning Ray to this particular dinner does get revealed in good time, but you’re not going to get it from me, this reviewer having no intention of giving away what Night Hawks has in store over the course of its frequently laugh-out-loud, even more often profanity-laced, suspense-charged hour-and-a-half (plus intermission).

Photo 2fdf Suffice it to add that playwrights Pratt and O’Neil end Act One with the sudden arrival of a younger, edgier version of Harry and Ray (Adam Conger as Jimmy and Jad Mager as Raz), signaling even more fireworks to come once Act Two gets under way.

Under Pearl’s and O’Neil’s inspired direction, it’s hard to imagine a finer pair of performances than the masterful work being done by Reed and Kimbrough, stage and screen vets who make us believe in the lifetime they’ve spent together taking lives for cash. Conger and Mager are terrific too as a much scarier version of Richie Cunningham (in punk-next-door mode) and a bearded, tattooed Fonz-gone-bad, neither of whom would you want to meet up with in a dark alley or even a well-lit street. Finally, there’s Malak’s revelatory performance as Sadie, stunning, three-dimensional dramatic work by one of L.A.’s most sensational musical theater triple-threats.

On the heels of her terrific set for The Theatricians’ current production of Kimberly Akimbo, scenic designer Madison Orgill has come up with one of the best diner sets I’ve seen, and by far the shabbiest (aided and abetted by Joanne McGee’s pitch-perfect props). Gary Lamb and Zad Potter’s lighting design is as striking as it gets, as is Pearl and Mark Duggar’s dramatically pulsating sound design. Costume designer Tanya Apuya has given each character a just-right outfit that suits his or her personality and station in life to a T.

Serving in multiple capacities are stage manager Potter, technical director Lamb, and master carpenter Reed. Night Hawks is produced for Crown City Theatre by William A. Reilly, Kimberly Bullock, McGee, Lamb, Matthew J. Williamson, and Ben Rovner.

The latest hit from one of North Hollywood’s premier 99-seat-plan companies, Night Hawks is guaranteed to grab you from its dramatically cinematic opening to its humdinger of a Rod-Serling-meets-a-certain-Bill-Murray-flick climax.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 2, 2013
Photos: Tim Polzin

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