Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune"

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"Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune"

Reviewed by Matt Breton

by Terrence McNally
Director: Jane Karakula
Set: Doug Lind
Lighting: Doug Lind and Richard Cary
Stage Manager: Amanda J. Ifrah
Assistant Stage Manager: Robert (Eddie) Paterson
Box Office: Sam and Wendy

Frankie...... . . . . . . . Marinell Madden
Johnny . . . . . . ............ . Barry Theiler
Radio Announcer . . . . Michael Kopko

Anyone who's ever been hurt by love or afraid to love, raise your hands. (I'll help you out by raising both.) The Actor's Theatre production of Terrence McNally's "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune" will cure your ills. Rhythmic and seductive, "Frankie and Johnny" deals with the first night two fortysomethings spend together, who may -- or may not -- be meant for each other. It is a night of many revelations, of many wounds, and many secrets. ("No big ones," Johnny says. "Only a thousand little ones.")

Even as McNally draws on older plays -- notably "Brigadoon" and everything ever written by Shakespeare, but also television's "Ozzie and Harriet" -- he prefigures later plays. Frankly, Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues" has nothing on Johnny's speech about admiring the feminine figure. And ever since we've fallen prey to the likes of "South Park" and "Dumb and Dumber," few plays can deal seriously with sex jokes or potty humor, but McNally uses them as bait to lead us away from the easy and obvious to the sublime. "This isn't small talk," Johnny says. "This is enormous talk."

Both actors were phenomenal in their roles. Where a less experienced actor would embellish the role with emotional flourishes, Barry Theiler (as Johnny) offers a more deadpan delivery, saving himself for climactic moments. He gives us a Johnny who not only has a broad emotional range, but a sincerity which pierces every moment. He comes across, as Frankie feels, as being so nice that he must be a creep. And Marinell Madden portrays Frankie as a tough and blowzy, past-her-prime waitress, concealing a fragile, wounded, yet vital woman within.

The production side of the play was flawless. The set -- Frankie's studio apartment -- is generously detailed, right down to the kitchen sink. Music flows in and out but never disturbs or tops the actors. Lighting designers Doug Lind and Richard Cary brilliantly capture all the moods of the night, from the full moon streaming through the window to the rose-hued sunrise.

Perhaps the most the most telling moment comes when Frankie shows Johnny a scar across the back of her neck and he tells her he'll kiss it and make it better. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it's the sort of make-believe most of us dismiss as a childhood magic. But this is the work of the play: to show us wounds we have forgotten, to get us to examine our own shortcomings, and with words as gentle as a kiss, make them disappear.

"Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune" (June 14 - July 7)
Methodist Church, 2 Centre Street, NANTUCKET, MA
1 (508) 228-6325

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide