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“Frankie and Johnny in the CLAIR de LUNE”

Robert Massimi.

“Frankie and Johnny” at the Broadhurst theater is an action filled play with many laughs and much sorrow. We meet both characters in the middle of sex. After the love making, both want different things. Johnny ,(Michael Shannon) wants love, while Frankie (Audra McDonald) wants him to leave.

Both Frankie and Johnny are wounded people, their lives never really worked out the way they planned it. Johnny is a short order cook and Frankie is a waitress at the same Greek dinner. In a very comical way, we find out that both have a lot in common.

As the play progresses, we find out more about them… He was in jail for check fraud, and she cannot have children due to a beating her boyfriend gave her. She was an aspiring actress and he made many mistakes in his life. While Johnny is content with his failures, Frankie is very guarded, not willing to let people into her life. She eventually lost her boyfriend to her best friend; trust is off the table for her

“Frankie and Johnny ” is a revival. First performed in 1987 with Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham as the leads. In 2002, Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci played the leads. Under the Direction of Arin Arbus, this production works magnificently. Both Mc Donald and Shannon deliver outstanding performances. Mc Donald (6 time Tony Winner) and Shannon ( 2 time Oscar nominee), feed off each others energy that keeps the audience mesmerized throughout the two hours, fifteen minutes.

Terrance Mc Nally is a four time Tony Winner. He is at the forefront as a contemporary writer. In “Frankie and Johnny “, he shows us a persons life in Hell’s Kitchen and the struggles that life has given her. Johnny, who reads Shakespeare and has a dictionary always at the ready in his work locker, is a very peculiar person who the audience has to try to figure out. Mc Nally never takes the foot of the gas with this play. Just when we think we know what’s going to happen next, he throws us a curve ball.

Under cool white lights, we see a simple one room apartment. A fire escape is the only thing that does not box Frankie in. She cannot get away from her past, she sees really no future, only the present, and in that present is a man whom she wants to leave.

Arbus brilliantly shows us the two different people. Johnny never stops talking. What he talks about varies from meaningless to very deep. He tries to get on common grounds with Frankie, he continually tells her how much they have in common. When Frankie questions him, he continues on as if they were meant for each other. Frankie the fighter will not be worn down that easy, she has a reaction to everything that Johnny has to say. Johnny too, a fighter, will not take no for an answer. He will not leave, he will not accept Frankie not wanting to fall in love with him.

The main allure of ” Frankie and Johnny ” is the two characters. Who is right, what’s wrong with the two of them. The plot also focuses deeply on their lives, particularly in the second act. It is in this act that we really see why the two are the way they are and how they got here. Arbus takes away the laughter a little bit and hits the audience hard, showing us the baggage and the scars that these two have suffered.

“Frankie and Johnny ” pulls out all the stops with our emotions. These two great actors command the stage and let us freely see into their lives. We see the strong, the vulnerable and the very human side of Frankie and Johnny. These are two people in everyday life, in an everyday situation, but through this great production we see their lives magnified over a brilliant two hours of theater.

robert massimi
I have been writing on theater since 1982. I currently am Chief Drama Critic for Metropolitan Magazine. I have produced 12 shows on and off Broadway. Former member of board Metropolitan Playhouse.
http://gothamreview.nyc

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