Two thoughts occurred while watching the Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which opens Thursday night at the Broadhurst Theatre (booking to Aug. 25). Why couldn't this have opened a few weeks ago and been eligible for the Tony Awards? It would have been a strong contender for Best Revival of a Play, and its two stars, Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, likely contenders for Best Actor/Actress in a Play.
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE Broadway Reviews
The new Broadway production of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, starring Audra McDonald andMichael Shannon, directed by Arin Arbus, is officially open. In this new Broadway production, Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, two of the most acclaimed actors of their generation, will bring the bruised dreamers of Terrence McNally's classic romance to new life. Director Arin Arbus, in her Broadway debut, directs this portrait of a lonely waitress and a short order cook whose first date turns into a one-night stand - and maybe more.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’: Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon’s Chemistry Burns Up Broadway
Ms. Arbus, making a strong Broadway debut after a decade of critical success Off Broadway, seems to have realized that the comedy is crucial, not only because her stars trail tragic associations from most of their previous roles but also because the play can teeter on the edge of bathos. Her strategy of dryness and detail and specificity - leaving the poetry to Natasha Katz's lighting - pays off.
BWW Review: Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon Make Rapturous Music in Terrence McNally's FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE
Director Arin Arbus' production, which handily deals with the 1987 piece's moments that might cause uneasiness with contemporary audiences, floats lovingly across the Broadhurst stage as co-stars Audra McDonald and Michael Shannonskillfully explore the delicate details of the many ways we may choose to expose ourselves to one another.
Director Arin Arbus skillfully moves her performers around the stage (grungily built by Riccardo Hernandez and adroitly lit by Natasha Katz) and into and out of their convincingly un-stylish clothing (designed by Emily Rebholz), with no attempt to glam up the crummy Hell's Kitchen studio locale. This is the sort of piece where direction ought to be invisible, just clearing space for the actors to breathe and fill the air, and Arbus does fine work. McDonald's Frankie is perhaps more vulnerable and jittery than the script calls for at times but shows inner strength and fire when needed. It's a pleasure to see Shannon luxuriate in a role that plays to his goofy, boyish side. Together, they forge a bond that's deeply moving, a prickly, organic tapestry of comic fluster, flashes of raw hurt, and pulsing erotic heat.
When Johnny refuses to leave Frankie's apartment, even after she threatens to call the police, the creepiness factor is hard to avoid, especially since Shannon has used his lanky frame and craggy face to convey menace so successfully in the past. But for more than two hours, these highly gifted actors-directed by Arin Arbus, and beautifully lit by Natasha Katz-keep a sensitive focus on the gawky humanity of their characters, holding steady through the ups and downs of McNally's emotional ride. They connect, and they draw us in.
‘Frankie And Johnny In The Clair De Lune’ Broadway Review: Audra McDonald, Michael Shannon And New Hope
When Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny In The Clair de Lune premiered Off Broadway in 1987, critics saw a sidelong glance at the AIDS crisis and the toll it took on intimacy. Nothing in the text has been changed for the affecting new production opening tonight on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre starring a powerful, ideally matched duo in Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, and so those references to sexual terror remain.
Review: 'Frankie and Johnny' on Broadway is a beautiful balance between Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon
But with a lot of help from McDonald and a deceptively expressionistic set from Riccardo Hernandez, the director Arin Arbus effectively operates on the levels of the then and the now. In the best moments of the piece, you think about the different terms of relationships in the 1980s and also how so much and yet so little has changed.
Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon both bare their bodies and their feelings as Frankie, a guarded waitress, and Johnny, a pushy cook in the same greasy spoon, whose one-night stand could lead to more. So exposed are they that the revival that opened Thursday should be rated X-hilarating.
‘Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune’ Broadway Review: Audra McDonald Sizzles With Michael Shannon
McNally's hopeful and heartfelt dramedy still carries a message for audiences who have grown perhaps even more jaded about love than those of three decades ago. Sex is easy, and intimacy is hard. And cynicism, while always just within reach, doesn't hold a candle to the untrustworthy but undeniable power of sincerity.
Terrence McNally's 1987 two-character play observes a pair of mismatched middle-aged misfits who are stunned to discover-in the light (clair) of the Manhattan moon (lune)-that the future they've both long given up on might just be found in the other's imperfect arms. Mismatched characters, yes; played here by the mismatched but equally brilliant Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune positively soars.
In 1987, the play's sub-textual message was a no-brainer. Everyone knew then that playing at sex was playing with fire, and McNally had no reason to spell it out. But because there's no need-to-know subtext to a modern-day production like this one, there's always the danger that the story of Frankie and Johnny might seem shallow because nothing more than a love story is at stake. Nothing more, perhaps, than a love story, but my, how those lovers can love.
It's easy to see why Terrence McNally's 1987 romantic two-hander is being presented on Broadway less than 20 years after its last incarnation. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, about one very long night in which two lonely souls debate whether or not to take a chance on love, is a veritable feast for actors. And in the new revival directed by Arin Arbus, Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon wolf it down with gusto.
Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon breathe fresh air into Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune: EW review
Shannon, who spends almost every moment of the play either naked or in scant cotton boxers, brings kinetic physical energy to the role - a man so bursting with life that he might actually repel outerwear. He's overbearing and utterly charming, often at the same time. McDonald, resolutely stripped of glamor in her worn bathrobe and scrunchie, brings a sort of earthy dignity to a woman who would rather keep her heart behind bars than expose it to hurt again.
Unsurprisingly, the real treat of this Frankie & Johnny - and perhaps any well-cast Frankie & Johnny - is watching the lively interplay of its two excellent performers. It's a showcase for actors, and there's a sweet, off-kilter, earthy chemistry between the down-to-earth McDonald and the hepped-up Shannon. Though Frankie is often nervous when she speaks, McDonald has a way of half-smiling or half-frowning while she listens that gives the sense of a deep, unarticulated inner life. And Shannon - who spends most of the play in boxer shorts, looking gloriously normal-bodied for a big-time actor - smartly leans into Johnny's oddball qualities and his bursts of childlike enthusiasm.
As one would expect given their impressive bodies of work, McDonald and Shannon deliver superb performances that combine hyper comedy with underlying vulnerability. However, the revival is misconceived physically, with a lighting grid stationed far too low below the actors and a flimsy exterior backdrop, which affects the extent to which the audience is drawn into the play.
This may go toward explaining why this impeccably performed production of McNally's sweet, sad, and funny play, crisply staged by Arin Arbus, can feel nevertheless a bit sodden. For all the virtuosity on display, I'm not sure that we ever truly believe the characters, believe that these people are as lonely, and as needy, as the script requires them to be.