The Meters, a New Orleans funk band, asked in song, “Now that we found love, what’re we gonna do with it?” Terence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune offers contrasting answers.
Maybe each of us has a Love Timer. When — okay, if — we’re lucky enough to find that special someone, each has an ingrained sense of how quickly to proceed. In youth, the Timer’s probably on fast forward (“Love? Oh forever, my trembling dove”). As one grows older, experiences accrue, and haste gives way to slower pacing and, possibly, among the alpha-wary, an urge to hurl that incessant ticker into a Dumpster.
McNally’s humble pair has so much in common they could be twins. Not just their names, which recall the famous song, but birthplaces, schools, tastes, nicknames of relatives. If one needed signs to confirm one’s destiny, all urge them to bond. Trouble is, their Love Timers conflict.
Johnny’s gung ho. He isn’t just smitten, he’s SMOTE, knocked so gaga that midway through their first date he’s quoting Shakespeare, talking marriage, children, soul mates. “There’s a reason,” he says, “why we’re called Frankie and Johnny” (he forgets that, in the song, Johnny “done” Frankie so wrong she shot him three times, “root-e-toot-toot”). Johnny worships her every move, as if she’s a living masterpiece.
Frankie’s been burned, bad. What looks like destiny to Johnny to her looks like a tweaked Romeo with a hair trigger. The heated attention’s kind of fun, plus hearing all that wonderful love stuff, but to her, Johnny Speedball’s miles down the track (imagine living with someone that ardent for any length of time). He’s “too sincere!” So, Frankie’ll stay for the credits — i.e. the one-night stand — but may choose not to see this movie again.
Frankie and Johnny will probably read you as much as you read into it. Can the couple last? Do we, as Johnny swears, have “just one moment to connect — one chance, and then it’s over”? McNally keeps several possibilities open. Though bringing on Debussy’s limpid “Clair de Lune,” at just the right instant, tends to tip the scales.
Frankie and Johnny has nudity and language worthy of a stevedore, so it’s not for everyone. Nonetheless, Ion Theatre could give its stellar, off-night production an open-ended run. The intimate play’s a perfect fit for Ion’s new space. And the company’s design work (in particular, that full moon rising out the window) shows that it has already mastered the room’s limited technical capacity.
Though their characters are far apart, Jeffrey Jones and Deanna Driscoll function as one being: he charging, she retreating — though not completely. Jones has the tics and twitches of someone just released from prison. He also deftly pinpoints a gap in Johnny’s sincerity. He’s on his best behavior, but is this guy for real (he does, after all, have a “shadow” side)?
Driscoll’s Frankie has played these scenes before. Like Shakespeare’s Cressida, she knows that “things won are done” and that “joy’s soul lies in the doing.” Instead of being swept away, troubled Frankie spends most of her energy building barriers. But like Jones, and with the same subtle touch, Driscoll also creates a tiny gap in her performance: a smidge of hope.
Diversionary Theatre’s Moscow feels like the early stages of a work-in-progress. Or not even that: more like a trial read- and sing-through to see what’s missing. A whole lot, it turns out.
For unknown reasons, three gay men are stranded in some sort of limbo, unsure whether they are dead or alive (adding to the confusion, their names are Matt, Luke, and Jon). Curtains and a stagelike floor suggest a theater. So, they decide to perform Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters as a musical. As in Waiting for Godot, that will give them something to do, one says, give them “structure.” And unlike the Prozorov sisters, who never make it to Moscow, it might give the trio a way out.
Maybe there’s an idea there: combine Sartre’s stranded trio in No Exit with Godot and Chekhov. But the script and music are so clichéd that nothing comes of it (example: “It’s easier to talk about our characters,” one says, “than to talk about ourselves”). At least a fourth of the play’s a facile Cliff’s Notes analysis of Three Sisters. The rest is just sketchy and predictable.
A tight, three-piece backup group — piano, violin, and flute — accompanies the performers but can’t do much with Maury R. McIntyre’s songs, which unfold like variations on the same melody. Neither can the actors, whose roles are so skimpy they barely qualify as types. For most of the play, Kevin Koppman-Gue’s Luke is just angry; John Whitley’s Jon, the wise explainer; and Angelo D’Agostino’s Matt, the waverer. All put energy into their songs but — D’Agostino in particular — tend to flatten whole notes. They perform on a minimalist set with minimal results. ■
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally
Ion Theatre, 3704 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest
Directed by Claudio Raygoza; cast: Deanna Driscoll, Jeffrey Jones; scenic design, Glenn Paris; costumes and props, Paris and Raygoza; lighting, Raygoza; sound, Caitlin Sussman
Playing through June 19 Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday at 4:00 p.m. 619-600-5020.
Moscow: A Musical Play, book and lyrics by Nick Salamone, music by Maury R. McIntyre
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Directed by Ira Spector; cast: John Whitley, Angel D’Agostino, Kevin Koppman-Gue; scenic and costume design, Megan Schmidt; lighting, Karin Filijan; musical director, Patrick Marion
Playing through May 30; Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-220-0097.