Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune is the story of the night after a hot date between two co-workers in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Was it a short fling, or the start of something more? That depends who you ask.
Should you see it?
Frankie and Johnny work together in a random diner somewhere in New York City somewhen in the 1950s. Frankie waits tables. Johnny’s a cook. One magical night, the two go on a date that ends in an exciting night of love making. Which is where Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune begins.
As the lights go up, we find Frankie and Johnny in bed, basking in what they both just very much enjoyed. Frankie doesn’t expect or want anything more than what they just shared, especially not when the afterglow has yet to dull and her stomach is grumbling for a reheated meatloaf sandwich.
Her walls are thus instantly re-erected under Johnny’s deeply amorous state of mind and lack of any shyness about it. She quickly and desperately decides she wants him to leave while he continues to relentlessly lob his romantic intentions and fanciful notions at the Great Wall of Frankie.
The acting in Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune is top notch. Alexis Scott’s Frankie presents with the strength requisite the tough New Yorker divorcee needs while managing to wonderfully capture and convey the raw vulnerability Frankie has behind all her armour. It’s that vulnerability, that denied hope, that defines her. She desires the same things as David Whitely’s Johnny, she just won’t let herself give in. Whitely, hot off his turn in Venus in Fur at The Gladstone, is at his finest here as he channels the rough-cut charisma and sex appeal of a Gable or Bogart in the lovestruck openness of his Johnny. He simply wants to love her and worship her, even while she’s having none of it.
At its heart, the show is about the risk-versus-reward of making a connection and loving another person. What if it works? What if it doesn’t? What if this is our one moment to decide? From those initial post-coitus moments of out of the blue laughing fits and tumbles out of bed, Scott and Whitely bare all (fairly literally) and hold nothing back as this disparity between their desires and points of view drive the story and character investigation forward.
The well-written text is also littered with humour, and its first act builds to a wonderfully emotional and heartfelt place, leading to, perhaps, that one moment of connection Johnny was hoping for. The second act deflates a bit compared to the first, partly because the first act ends on such a great note and partly because the second act, while continuing the character study, doesn’t really change or refocus anything we’ve learned.
As you likely already know, rather than being staged in a traditional-type venue, Frankie and Johnny is staged where it’s set — Frankie’s Hell’s Kitchen apartment. (Or at least the Sandy Hill counterpart on Stewart Street.) This puts Scott and Whitely in a shared space with their audience who are mere feet from them and often close enough to touch. The effect here is an added level of intimacy, rawness, and reality, you don’t get anywhere else. It’s the 3D experience Hollywood could only wish for, putting you right inside the “movie.” Everything is happening live and in front of you with none of the distractions you’re taught to ignore in regular theatre. Maybe a better analogy would be the voyeur’s version of one of Star Trek’s famous holodecks. If you felt like punching Johnny when he was pushing this persistent thing to the point of being creepy and stalkerish, you -theoretically- could. Though, seriously, don’t.
The seats may not be the most comfortable out there but that shouldn’t keep you from grabbing your tickets (in advance, they’ve been selling like crazy) and making the trek to Stewart Street – one block from the Ottawa Little Theatre – and visiting Frankie’s apartment.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Is this kind of intimate theatre experience something you enjoy? How did Frankie and Johnny leave you feeling when it was all said and done? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below
Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune runs until May 30th at 122 Stewart St. All the details can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/688012144643550/