REVIEW: FRANKIE & JOHNNY at the Claire de Lune

at Miners Alley

by Mona Lott

It’s fitting that Miners Alley Playhouse with it’s tiny, inescapably intimate theater is the vessel that holds the current production of Frankie and Johnny in The Clair de Lune. The play is an examination in character, lacking little plot but instead focusing on the human somewhat spiritual interaction of two rather unremarkable individuals.

Frankie, a waitress was originated by Kathy Bates but here the role is tackled by accomplished actress Jessica Robblee, who by appearance seems much too lovely to portray the rather dowdy Frankie. Robblee deftly proves though, that appearance is subjective and most often underappreciated by oneself. Her refusal to accept the overblown but rather genuine praises from Johnny only go to show how damaged she really is. It’s a smart performance,  vulnerable but sometimes in a bit too calculated way. Regardless, it’s a fully developed characterization and her verbal sparring with Johnny sets the rhythm and tempo of the play.

William Hahn as Johnny the short order cook is convincing from the first grunts of copulation that audibly assault the audience in the darkness at the top of the show. He’s a dreamer, seeing beauty in the sublime and willing to look past all that might make one feel dirty and ashamed. He talks and then he talks some more and in doing so creates a rather large roadblock for Frankie as she tries to bring an end to this “one night stand” so that she might return to her rather ordinary but comfortable life. Hahn’s Johnny is charming in a rather sycophantic way.

Robblee and Hahn find a rhythm allowing for contemplation, yielding to whatever reaction may come from the other but without sacrificing the pace. There is a convenience in watching these two work, a reassurance that these are two professionals who are not about to slip or fall. Hahn succeeds in masking the animalistic nature of Johnny with a determination to make Frankie aware of the joy and delicacy of his skewed grasp of reality and Robblee responds in grounding Frankie firmly to the floor.

It’s a dance, limited in movement by Johnathon Scott -McKean’s scenic design that flourishes with it’s cramped, crowded, claustrophobic and dreary New York apartment. It’s perfect in trapping these two feral people and forcing them to relate.

Director Warren Sherrill knows to keep the staging stilted. He forces these actors to confront the awkward navigation of their entrapment together. He stylishly knows to keep the motion static and instead let their words move the action along.

The show is not about to thrill or shock unless one is provoked by the all too recognizable sound of fornication in the dark, but it will delight in a poetic and artful production that examines and rexamines that most base of emotions that any romantic longs for, especially in the month of February.

 

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