See it noir


The Shadow-Pier


Written by Jonathan Wallace

Directed by James Duff

Howling Moon Cab Company

Midtown International Theatre Festival (

WorkShop Jewel Box Theatre, 312 W. 36th Street

Equity Showcase (through August 5th)

Review by Michael D. Jackson


Taking place in two eras, and in a film called The Shadow-Pier, Jonathan Wallace has written an intriguing play about McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklisting and nostalgic film noir style. The story concerns Ferry Tenbroek, who made his first film in his 20’s and had it confiscated by the FBI for containing a Communist message. This seems ludicrous to everyone except the FBI, who seem to see red in everything in 1952. Agent Spencer spends the play questioning the characters to identify Communist connections. Moira Spelling is an assistant professor of cinema and a friend of Tenbroek’s who has been contacted in 2002 by a mysterious fellow named Corey, who after many years says he has found the missing film and is trying to sell it back to Tenbroek. Four actors (Jared Morgenstern, Paul Pryce, Peter Reznikoff and Gayle Robbins) play twelve characters, including those in scenes from the hijacked film. The play generally bounces back and forth between 1952, 2002 and scenes from the mysterious film. The film scenes are directed and acted in the film noir style, and although this elicits some laughs, it is not performed for camp, but is taken seriously and plays well. Each actor does a marvelous job of playing his/her three different characters, all of which are clearly defined.


Despite good work from the actors in delineating character, the play becomes hard to follow as it bounces back and forth. This is a play that asks for a little more technical support than director James Duff allowed. In fact, the decision was made to use almost no tech at all. The play is generally illuminated and there are no light changes to speak of. Even a general fade out/fade in between many scenes would help define the jumping back and forth to different eras, and the film sequences might have been enhanced by old movie music. Lack of any help from the design department made certain scenes lack dignity, such as the several times that characters are shot dead, only to have to suddenly come to life, cross the length of the stage to exit and then return a second later as a new character in a new scene. Even under the limited festival conditions, Duff could have managed smoother transitions.


The play is also not helped by a stage too small to handle it, with only two exits causing awkward transitions. Although the title suggests it, an actualized pier on stage is rarely used as such, and took up valuable stage space that could have been put to better use. It is evident that with a little more technical support and even a slightly bigger theatre, the show would improve tremendously.


In the playwright’s notes he suggests that the film sequences might actually be filmed and projected. This would be a great idea for a few reasons: you would know for sure when you were watching the The Shadow-Pier film. It would be fun to see the actors playing the characters on film on real locations in black and white, and would add clarity. It would give the on stage actors a better chance to switch from their 1952 to their 2002 characters, perhaps even adding a bit of a costume enhancement between the two. At any rate, the play has many excellent scenes and is a novel and entertaining idea. It flounders somewhat in a theatre space too small for it, but it is evident that it could blossom into a more fully realized production if only the resources were available.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 1

Acting: 2

Sets: 0

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 0


Copyright 2007 Michael D. Jackson


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