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BWW Review: FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE streamed from MetroStage

Terrence McNally's classic streams free from actors in two continents.

BWW Review: FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE streamed from MetroStage

MetroStage is starting to wind down its lockdown era with a second streamed work of Terrence McNally, the esteemed American playwright who himself died of COVID complications a year ago.

"Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" was one of the playwright's first big hits in a long, rich career. It's essentially a charged postcoital discussion between a middle-aged cook and waitress at a New York diner. After sleeping together they consider their possibilities together, the nature of their past and the possibility of grace, as when a DJ plays some Debussy at a key moment on a moonlit night.

Frankie and Johnny were intended to be ordinary people - and were first played by F. Murray Abraham and Kathy Bates in the 1987 off-Broadway premiere. Because actors are usually beautiful people and can command audiences for that alone, the casting tended toward more glamorous players, such that a 1991 film adaptation starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. Subsequent Broadway revivals included Edie Falco opposite Stanley Tucci in 2002, and Audra McDonald with Michael Shannon in 2019.

MetroStage's production has a pretty good looking couple as well - Veronica del Cerro and Michael Kevin Darnall. They previously played another hard bitten New York couple in a production of "Savage in Limbo" at MetroStage a decade ago, and the heat they created quickly came to the mind of producing artistic director Carolyn Griffin. The only trouble was that del Cerro has been living in Spain.

The same limitations that cause plays to be live-streamed when they wouldn't ordinarily, allows actors six time zones apart to share a screen and bring life to a play when stages are dark. So the two play opposite one another once more.

Despite it being presented only online, it actually works well on the screen - just as their production of McNally's "Mothers and Sons," much more than a reading, did in January. But this time, it's even more intense, with the split screen of their two faces looking straight out, to the audience, but as if they were staring into each other's eyes.

You almost wish they'd tinkered with the play a little bit (just as McNally tinkered with the movie adaptation) to present it as the modern day FaceTime conversation it resembles in an era when people have found it harder than ever to connect. After all, as Johnny declares at one point, "You gotta connect or you die."

But the play retains most of its power in this medium - other than the opening action beneath the covers (obviously accomplished by one person). They can't really hold one another, though we can imagine they are.

Still, there are other things that could have helped the illusion - when Johnny complains about Frankie turning up the lights, the lights could have actually gotten brighter. They talk about the music on the radio, which doesn't exist for most of the play, until an announcer (Robert Aubry Davis) loudly interrupts with some relevant dedications.

The audio might have been weaved in with a little more finesse. Props at time were optional - a chopping knife was evident, but not the food. More effort could have been made to reconcile their two bedroom performance spaces, though admittedly they are two continents apart.

Nevertheless, the theatrical magic was made abundant by the two actors under Stefan Sittig's direction, so good in their brash, literally in-your-face performances. Darnall's Johnny is bold yet vulnerable, and way too willing to declare love and discuss marriage on their first night together. Del Cerro's Frankie understandably recoils at his excess but finds a way to stand for what she believes. Their path forward isn't clear, or won't be easy, but their moments together are real.

As with "Mothers and Sons," the great part about this production for theater-starved viewers is that it's free for anyone with an internet connection. The bad thing is that it's very limited, and available only through Sunday. Make plans accordingly.

Running time: One hour, 51 minutes, with one one-minute intermission.

Photo credit: Veronica del Cerro and Michael Kevin Darnall in MetroStage's "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune."

"Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" is streaming free through April 25 at 7:30 p.m. from MetroStage. To view it, first go to broadwayondemand.com and search for the MetroStage link.


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From This Author Roger Catlin