Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally, New Repertory Theatre, 11/28/10-12/19/10. Nudity and Mature Themes. http://newrep.org/frankie_johnny.php
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is a difficult play to stage. The tight, witty, intelligent romance by Terrence McNally requires a comparable production that will not fall flat; New Repertory Theatre’s current production rises to the challenge.
A two-person play needs two strong actors. Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton deliver beyond expectations. Not only are they strong individual actors, but they also thrive as a couple. While Terrence McNally has said that the play is a “romantic fairytale”, the play would not hold an audience’s attention if it was not grounded in genuine, believable characters. As Robert Pemberton speaks every line, his eyes reveal the sincerity of his heart. Over the span of one night, Johnny’s profession of love could seem ludicrous, even threatening—except for the fact that this Johnny is truly sincere and truly loves Frankie. Ann Gottlieb walks the delicate line between being fragile and resilient. If she does not display strength, the character of Johnny would crush her; at the same time, the character of Frankie has been hurt and the vulnerability still has to be there to create the tension. As Frankie, Gottlieb has found this balance so that the character can hold her own against Johnny, but still fear the pain of heartbreak. Gottlieb and Pemberton completely draw the audience in to Frankie and Johnny’s struggle where one can’t help but fight with them for the connection to something that can last. They ARE Frankie and Johnny—trying to be more than just a couple of “bodies bumping around in the night”.
I was not sure what to think about the nudity at first; I knew how the play started and I knew how it progressed, but I wasn’t sure how much needed to actually be seen. Upon reflection, it seems that Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, the director, is trying to let the clothing (and lack of clothing) speak as a comment on the characters’ abandon. At the beginning of the play, Frankie and Johnny live in a moment of free passion, but as the play progresses the characters try to hide more while still trying to move towards a relationship. Is it necessary? I’m not sure. I do think it will limit the type of audience the show will get—but that is not wholly a bad thing. How often, outside of New York or Los Angeles are people really willing take a risk and put on a beautiful piece of theatre that is outside of what is acceptable and proper in polite society? And the entire play is about taking risks. The nudity adds the meaning that I mentioned above and in no way detracts from the story. For some of the more conservative audience members, it may take some time to adjust, but if you can—it’s worth it.
The set is a true-to-life (and scale) New York efficiency apartment. Anyone who has lived in a city can recognize that. Ocampo-Guzman utilizes the space completely. Every area and level of the apartment is used. The only hazardous aspect for the audience is that the audience needs to be prepared to eat after the show; Johnny starts to cook an omelet onstage and mouths start to water. The Black Box is an intimate space and is the perfect venue for an intimate show.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at the New Repertory Theatre provides an evening of laughter and love that one can be glad to have been a part of. Moreover, Ann Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton are exceptionally talented actors that work incredibly well together; they deliver a heartfelt performance that draws the audience into the characters’ struggle. Frankie and Johnny… is a clever play to begin with, and if the nudity is not a problem, it is well worth the trip to Watertown, MA in the next couple of weeks. TNETG. 11/29/10.