“Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune” of working-class love lives

By Lucy Komisar

It opens with sensual and noisy sex in the bed, the bodies turning and pushing against each other, the familiar noises with great realistic direction by Arin Arbus. And then not quite what you might expect. Frankie falls out of bed. And the post sex conversation; he compliments her breasts. She is not pleased. Is this how a love affair begins?

Terrence McNally‘s play was first performed off-Broadway in 1987. Two lonely working-class people in their 40s work at a diner where she is a waitress and he is a new short-order cook. They’ve been noticing each other and now they’ve ended up in her bed.

Audra McDonald as Frankie and Michael Shannon as Johnny, photo Deen van Meer.

Audra McDonald is terrific as Frankie, giving a bravura performance which shows she doesn’t have to sing to get our plaudits. Michael Shannon, who was the stunning drunk in the Roundabout‘s 2016 production of “Long Day‘s Journey into Night,” is a worthy partner as Johnny.

The scene is her scruffy tenement studio at 53rd Street and 10th Avenue in Hell‘s Kitchen, with a bed, wardrobe, phone on small a table opposite a line of fridge, sink, stove.

The opening moments may set us to expect the cauldron of a great love affair. But then come down to the present: the issue of commitment gets in the way. Spoiler: it‘s not the man who won‘t commit, it‘s the woman.

They appear a very mismatched couple. She is ill at ease. He talks too much, is slightly obnoxious: “I love the sound of my own voice.”

He seeks intimacy, is desperate to connect to her, but she is frightened of a commitment. The reason is revealed later.

She wants him to leave. He is intense. She says he gives her the creeps. McDonald by the way is a charmer.

Michael Shannon as Johnny and Audra McDonald as Frankie, photo Deen van Meer.

She: you want too much.  He: it doesn‘t have to last. He is a romantic, she is cynical.
He says he wants to marry her, have kids.
She is upset, nervous, angry. She screams at him. Her voice is working class, slightly New York.

They joust about ages, start in upper 30s, lower 40s. Then they admit to years that move up. More conflict and desperation. They end up at each other‘s throats.

Then some magic and mysteries. The magic of the full moon as a radio DJ plays Debussy‘s “Clair de Lune.” Something happens in that light of the moon.

Shannon has priceless expressions and McDonald is wonderful showing her anguish, sorrow, unhappiness.

It’s very different and closer to reality than the fantasy romances or exaggerated crises that dominate the stage.

Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune.” Written by Terrence McNally; directed by Arin Arbus. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th St., New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened May 30, 2019; closes July 28, 2019. Run time 2:15. 6/12/19. Also on NY Theatre Wire.

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One Response to "“Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune” of working-class love lives"

  1. Susan Brownmiller   Jun 17, 2019 at 5:30 pm



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