2nd Story Theatre illuminates an unconventional love story
Emily Lewis & Chris Perrotti deliver romantic chemistry in title roles.by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
Some might like to think of love as champagne and caviar on the French Riviera, but a burger and fries and sweating bottle of Budweiser in a cold water flat is a no less legitimate picture of what love is to ordinary working people — cops, factory workers, bus drivers, waitresses, salesmen and short-order cooks. That is certainly the case in 2nd Story Theatre’s affecting production of “Frankie & Johnny in the Claire de Lune,” now running in Warren.
Terrene McNally’s script is a far cry from idealistic comedies involving beautiful people with little of value to lose or gain in a romantic adventure. Such fluff is not the stuff of McNally’s rough and tumble world. He gets down and dirty, burrowing right through to the nitty-gritty of what love means to people with little else in their lives, down to that place where real stories thrive.
Masterfully directed by Mark Peckham, “Frankie & Johnny” explores the love in an unconventional relationship. In this story, it is a woman who is looking for nothing more than a one-night stand or maybe just a decent guy to have on hand for a booty call when she’s in the mood; it is the male-he-person of the masculine gender that is looking for something more, something permanent in a transient, not to mention, all too short existence.
Emily Lewis’ portrayal of Frankie, a hard-edged waitress in a greasy diner, is far more exquisite than the daily fare offered on the diner’s menu. Underneath her inaccessible exterior, her hard veneer is as cracked and crumbling as that of the countertops she wipes clean daily at the diner. She uses sex as a temporary retreat from the harsh reality of her loneliness, but is unwilling to open up emotionally after withholding nothing sexually from Johnny. Their monumental struggle to find some common ground on which to build something of value is the driving force behind the drama.
As the overly sincere, outrageously persistent and slightly demented short-order cook, Johnny, Chris Perrotti’s performance is as delicious as the best Philly-cheesesteak you ever stuffed down your pie hole. His sincerity is the perfect counterpoint to Lewis’ skepticism about love; their romantic chemistry sizzles like a slab of bacon on a hot grill. Perrotti and Lewis deliver their lines with the ease of pouring a cup of coffee and add emphasis to their words through the skillful use of facial expressions and body language.
Ron Cesario’s costumes (or lack thereof in some scenes) add a heightened sensuality to the bedroom scenes, exposing the physical vulnerabilities that go hand in hand with the characters’ emotional scars. Max Ponticelli’s set and lighting design work in perfect unison to create and illuminate the tattered flat that Frankie calls home. If this is where her heart is, you couldn’t tell it from the untidy bedroom, cut-rate furnishings and cramped kitchen. Even so, there is a window where Frankie can look out onto the world and where filtered moonlight seeps into her apartment from between the skyscrapers.
“Frankie & Johnny” is a unique look at love through the lives of a couple of losers, losers who are still willing to play the game of love in spite of their previous losses. Lewis and Perrotti are marvelous in their roles, each finding that bit of humanity in their character that makes you feel their pain and share their dreams.