Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune
-By CiCi Barone
In its inaugural production, Frogdog Productions did an admirable job with a script of which I cannot honestly say I am a fan. As director Ronni D. Prior put it, “It’s a love story without all the romance stuff getting in the way.” There were moments of brilliance and a few missteps but all in all I’d say the two person cast did a decent job.
The plot of the play is relatively simple, though the author throws it around at random much like the film, “Lost in Translation.” Unless you had a flow chart, a
t times the conversation was hard to follow. Frankie is a waitress and Johnny is the short order chef at the same restaurant. The play follows the 24 hours following their first date, and Johnny’s desperate attempts to convince Frankie that they are soul mates and this is the only instant in their lives in which they have to truly connect and decide that they will be together.
As patrons walk into the theatre, you are immediately struck by a very yellow set, designed by director Ronni Prior and producer/female lead Summer Lynn Bryant, which is obviously a very small apartment. It’s a bit cluttered as though its inhabitant has lived there for quite a long time. Clothes are strewn all about the floor and a bright blue bra is meretriciously hanging from a shelf, leading one to suspect certain adult activities have just taken place.
Those suspicions are unceremoniously confirmed when the house lights dim, and in complete darkness the patrons are shocked to attention by the sounds of a couple in the throes of passion. As soon as the stage lights come up you realize the two people on stage, Frankie and Johnny (played by Summer Lynn Bryant and Ben Weaver) are completely nude. Though this is Austin, and we are a very open minded, eclectic group of people the lack of a disclaimer for full nudity was a huge shock. I am no prude myself, but I found the nudity to be distracting and uncomfortable because it was completely unexpected. The two spend the next twenty minutes discussing their evening’s triumphs in the bedroom while still superfluously stark naked.
The female lead, Frankie, is a woman whose life has not gone the way she had ever hoped, and it is incredibly obvious that she has been burned by a man in the past. From the get go, Summer Lynn Bryant does a wonderful job portraying those subtle moments of insecurity mixed with fear. She seemed to stumble over lines here and there and struggled when the script called for tears, but all in all played the character well. There are moments when she was directed to stare out to the audience to “look” out her apartment window. Her eyes see past the audience and the light booth and you can tell she sees everything her lines are describing.
Johnny is a very forceful, verbose, and passionate man. He is given all of the crude, at times truly vulgar lines in the show. Ben Weaver is somehow able to transform words that would in polite society be truly offensive, into something more of a passing comment that doesn’t sting the ear. I have seen Mr. Weaver in many a play, portraying many a character and to date, I’d say the part of Johnny is both his most down to earth and most terrifying role yet. At times he makes you feel uncomfortable with his flat out refusals to leave Frankie’s apartment despite her desperate pleas for him to leave. He mixes beautiful compliments about Frankie with confusing metaphors and you aren’t sure how to take them and neither is Frankie.
Throughout the course of the play, each character airs the skeletons in their closets, Frankie’s in a tearful confession, and Johnny’s in a despondent monologue. I felt that the emotions behind each confession were a bit forced though still effective.
The on stage chemistry between Summer and Ben is very natural, comfortable and unstrained. There were many moments of sweet, tender embraces that one only sees from a couple that has been together for quite a while, leading you to wonder if the two actors are involved romantically off stage.
Though I cannot forgive the production staff or the box office for omitting a nudity disclaimer, as the show progressed through its various stages, you find yourself rooting for Frankie and Johnny to work out. Their natural chemistry together solidifies the scripts desire to portray lust, desire, and a need to feel loved and safe. Ms. Prior’s stage direction seemed very natural, and the two actors handled what I feel is a difficult to follow script with relative ease. I give this performance a 3 out of 5 stars.
Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune has three more performances at The City Theatre and tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com