FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE.
by Terrence McNally.
Minerva Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 6 December 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 27 November.
Starkness and energy in moving moonlight romance.
Second only to Neil Simon in boulevard – or Broadway – popularity, Terrence McNally extends his range into gay relationships, but, like Simon, remains outside his characters. They are, like lead roles written for Hollywood starts, always self-aware, always presenting themselves. If they feel self-doubt (and the pair in this play do, constitutionally) they express the doubt in confident sentences. The presentation never stops; we never truly see inside.
Which is one way of writing drama. And it’s useful for comedy, which Frankie and Johnny gently is. She’s a waitress, he’s a short-order cook in the same diner. Eventually he’s worked up the courage to ask her out. She’s accepted. They’ve come back to her place and are having sex as the action starts.
If the play starts mid-action, it shows that physical pleasure is the easy part. It’s when the speaking has to start that trouble begins. Though as the action extends through the night, tenderness, or the need for love, keeps its grasp. It’s at its climax by the end of act one, when a classical music DJ responds to Johnny’s ’phoned request for the most beautiful piece of music ever and the action fades-out to Debussy’s Clair de Lune (made less beautiful this performance by a passing siren and an insistent audience mobile – Chichester, too, has its emergencies and its morons).
There’s nothing remarkable about Frankie and Johnny (the DJ assumes he’s using pseudonyms) as they plod about the room, lose their cool, or when he obsesses about the precise sandwich she’s asked for. Intimacy – emotional rather than physical – is suggested as they gradually increase the age they’ll admit to. At forty and more, this is what life has offered, and it won’t change much. The only question is what will happen when daylight replaces moonbeams.
On the rumpled untidiness of Libby Watson’s spacious set, Paulette Randall’s production stresses the resilience of the characters. This may limit their sympathetic link with the audience but, acted with precision and energy, shows their dignity in a deglamourised comedy that’s a tribute to the individuality of people whom most people never notice.
Frankie: Dervla Kirwan.
Johnny: Neil Stuke.
Director: Paulette Randall.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound: Alastair Ashford.
Voice/Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Fight director: Terry King.