2nd Story’s Frankie & Johnny
Nowhere is this tale told with more understanding and empathy than in the production now at 2nd Story Theatre.By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
The play opens on a darkened stage where a man and a woman are barely seen but clearly heard having passionate sex.
The question is will this physical encounter lead to something more, a second date, or maybe a true relationship.
The play is Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” a slice-of-life story set in the New York City of 1987, but which could be playing out just about anywhere today. The names refer to the two characters in the play and to the Debussy composition heard playing on the radio in Frankie’s Hell’s Kitchen apartment.
McNally often writes about the possibility and improbability of human connections, and that concept is distilled into one overnight experience in the lives of these “not old, not young” veterans of life’s struggles.
It’s an emotional tale, honest in its details, including the role that sex plays; the talk is explicit. Nowhere, however, is this tale told with more understanding and empathy than in the production now at 2nd Story Theatre.
Director Mark Peckham puts his knack for emotional authenticity to work with his perfectly cast actors: Chris Perrotti as the talkative, passionate Johnny, and Emily Lewis as the more guarded Frankie, given to resignation about life’s disappointments.
He’s a short-order cook at the diner where she’s a waitress, and each has noticed the other. Frankie is attracted, but Johnny is convinced Frankie is “the one,” even though this is their first date.
Events that brought them to this mental and emotional ground come out as the two talk through the night, which translates for the theater audience to about an hour and a half. Like real-life conversations, the talk sometimes is superficial, sometimes meaningful and revealing. Just when things seem to be going well, an offhand or misunderstood comment can spark anger or pain. There are moments that will make you laugh, shake your head with recognition, and possibly, surprisingly, bring a tear.
It takes thoughtful acting to convey the emotions and lots of movement on stage to hold our attention through this extended conversation, and both Perrotti and Lewis make it look natural. In 2nd Story’s small, Downstage Theatre, everyone is close enough to see the actors’ expressions and become engaged in their activities, from Frankie’s practical bed straightening to Perrotti’s slicing and dicing as he prepares a western omelet per Frankie’s request. (You leave the theater hungry as well as touched.)
The small space also reinforces the downscale nature of Frankie’s apartment, created by scenic and lighting designer Max Ponticelli with telling specificity, from the used-looking bedclothes to dishes in the kitchen sink. The classical music on the boom box is an anomaly, but a pivotal one in the characters’ lives.
The play is slow in spots; these aren’t implausibly clever people given to sitcom quips or earth-shaking drama. The reward is in sharing their experience – and their hope. It’s a good feeling.