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NET’s “Frankie and Johnny” is a Rhapsody in Reverse

Review by Prabir Das of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune: New Edgecliff Theatre

New Edgecliff Theatre launched its 17th season with Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune at the Essex Studios on September 24, 2015.

Frankie & Johnny are literally the two people that hoist the audience through a roller-coaster ride all the way through this two hour journey, that takes place over a ‘one night stand’ encounter at Frankie’s one bedroom apartment somewhere in New York. As the play begins, under the subtle chiaroscuro, we hear the man and the woman grunting in bed. And we anticipate the story can go anywhere from here. Following the conclusion of the primal act, we realize they barely knew each other. Both worked in the same restaurant; Frankie as a waitress and Johnny as a cook. That’s all the commonalities there are.. But, really?

Frankie wants Johnny to leave, but the chatter box Johnny just can’t stop expressing his love towards Frankie. They giggle, they growl, they murmur, they whizz, they swish, they whoosh and the night passes by. Johnny’s desire to repair his broken soul and Frankie’s skepticism collide time and again. Yet they watch the world around them together through the window of the apartment. Under the moonlit sky they observe the old couple who go through life without a single word towards each other and then in another apartment, domestic violence between a man and his woman. These are usual incidents Frankie sees every night with her empty heart and through the open window–a heart that once aspired to be an actress and also failed several times. Yet the dawn rises upon them. As they begin to brush we believe they were finally able to smell the breath of freshness. We come to terms with the fact that the donnybrook between the two is actually love blossoming in reverse. The common societal belief of sex only after matured love is after all not just the one and the only way to oneness. It can be elevated the other way as well.

This provocative play, written by Torrence McNally, is perhaps one of the best fairy tale romances of the everyday Jack and Jill. Sexuality is often imposed onto plays for the sake of sex but not in this play. Every bit of it is so natural and so normal that it unselfish-consciously connects the audience directly with the souls of the characters and the essence of the story. Universal manly submissiveness appears when Johnny candidly rests his face against Frankie’s breasts and expresses his sense of feeling security there. There are countless classic situations in this play that leave the audience to ponder upon piece by piece as they exit Frankie’s apartment.

All in all, Frankie and Johnny is a splendid story enacted by two bold actors, Sara Mackie as Frankie and Dylan Shelton as Johnny. It appears as if the character of Johnny was created with Dylan Shelton in mind. His mannerisms and demeanor perfectly fit the mold of Johnny’s psychology. Dylan’s guts, self-esteem and commitment to realism in theatre deserve a salute as he uncovers himself from underneath the bedsheet without a single string attached to his soul and his body. Sara Mackie was slightly uneasy during the first half of the play but gradually blossomed perfectly into the character of Frankie.

“It has been a challenging job” states the director of the play, Jared Doren, and it clearly was, , but Mr. Doren was up to the challenge. His eye for detail definitely deserves a mention except for the occasional cooking gaffe. The set design by Rachel Kuhn and master carpenter Jared Earland truly place us as an insider into Frankie’s apartment. Even the faucet in the kitchen has running water. But what happened to the cooktop? Sound design by Jim Watson was crisp especially when the volume of the radio was being turned up. Glen Goodwin’s lighting design illuminated the play well especially during the moments when the characters were turning on and off the lights in certain areas of the apartment. Greta Stokes’s costume design was a relatively easy task in this play, however, the clothing (briefly wore only once by Johnny) didn’t seem to match that of a cook. Mary Gascho and Marta Backman, the props manager and the stage manager, respectively, had to deal with a huge amount of inventory of the apartment and they both served well.

Overall this was a great play to watch. The lovers of the Cincinnati and the rest of the world must see this play. An intimate play in an intimate setting, Frankie and Johnny’s perfect recipe of love is being cooked and all should taste the flavor and aroma before it evaporates.