Review: ‘Frankie and Johnny’ are wonderful at 2nd Story Theatre
A first-rate script and excellent direction and performances make 'Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune' a winner.by Susan McDonald, Providence Journal
It is the intent of the 2nd Story Theatre to inject laughter and love into our lives this fall, as the world braces for a contentious presidential election.
Laughter came in the season’s first show, “The Ladies Man.” Love — although challenging and elusive at times — comes in a more hopeful package through a fabulous staging of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.”
McNally’s story is so real that everyone in the audience can identify at times with the characters — a middle-aged waitress battered by men and broken dreams but holding onto the aspiration of someday becoming a teacher, and an equally downtrodden short-order cook at the same restaurant who courageously pushes past the disappointments he’s experienced in life to foster hope and nurture new love.
The show starts in semi-darkness as a nude Frankie and Johnny grunt through the last few moments of sex on Frankie’s pull-out couch after their first date. Staged wonderfully by director Mark Peckham, there is minimal nudity as the pair collects themselves in the afterglow. At least Johnny wants to think it’s afterglow. Frankie just wants to jump up, grab a robe, give him a cold meatloaf sandwich and send him on his way back to Brooklyn.
Johnny, however, has fallen in love — whether it’s in love with the woman before him or in love with the thought of being in love — and he spends the entire night wooing her, alternating between sweet nothings and more aggressive, amorous attention. They have much in common — they are from the same town in Pennsylvania, they were both abandoned by their mothers at young ages and they both have had dreams snuffed out by life and the cruelty of others.
But that is where the commonality seems to end. Johnny has not given up on love, while Frankie seems more content to watch the lives of her neighbors from the windows of her apartment at night. She has been hurt and is afraid. Or is she?
Peckham has created a cozy setting for this beautiful love story and his two-person cast of Emily Lewis as Frankie and Chris Perrotti as Johnny are a joy to watch from start to finish. These two actors have great chemistry, which is evident despite Frankie’s best efforts to keep Johnny at arm’s length. Perrotti is wonderfully similar to Stanley Tucci, who earned a Tony nomination in this role in 2003.
As Johnny, Perrotti gives us a character who is rough around the edges but has a soft heart. His mannerisms are all New York macho, and his passion for the aging waitress is genuine and precious to witness. Lewis is also a treat, lending just the right edge to Frankie without clouding the character’s deep pain and fear.
“Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” is a wonderful show about love against the odds. It’s heartwarming and good and this production does McNally’s words justice.