In only their second ever production, Casting Spells Productions takes on Terrence McNally‘s late-80s play, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. It’s a bold choice, given that it’s a two-hour production with a very intimate setting and features only two characters; with a weak performance by either actor or mismatched chemistry, the whole thing would fall apart. Luckily, both Shanan Custer and Charles Hubbell are well up to the task of carrying the entire show on their shoulders.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is set in middle-aged waitress Frankie’s run-down New York City apartment, where she has just invited her new coworker Johnny up for what she imagines will be a one-night stand. It only takes a few minutes for it to become clear, however, that Johnny is interested in more, while Frankie is ready for Johnny to put his pants on and leave so that she can have her space to herself again. Throughout both acts, they explore the potential for a relationship at a point in their lives when they had both imagined love had passed them by. Well, now, “explore the potential” is a nice way to say that Frankie is cynical and bitter and Johnny is a either incredibly passionate or a bit of a wacko, and they can’t seem to decide whether they love or hate each other.
The performances in this piece are strong. Custer is convincing as an uncomfortable, uncertain, cynical Frankie; you can see that she is flattered by Johnny’s attentions but uncomfortable with his intensity, and her discomfort is palpable as she nervously wanders around the apartment and fusses with things. Hubbell‘s Johnny is just incredibly believable, in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. I went back and forth between liking him and wanting to tell him to shut up, and his confidence and comfort in his own skin were entirely convincing. The chemistry between the two wasn’t quite electric, but then, that’s the whole point — this is their first date, and it isn’t Hollywood movie love-at-first-sight, at least not for Frankie, and they’re both trying to sort out their feelings.
On a technical level, scenic designer Jane Ryan and lighting designer Grant Merges, along with Sid Korpi on properties, do an excellent job of creating Frankie’s late-80s NYC walk-up. The stage of the Minneapolis Theatre Garage is jam-packed with Frankie’s belongings, from the formica table to the balled-up socks on the floor, and light from the hallway coming in through the window above her door, the place looks entirely lived-in and homey in a dingy sort of way. The clock-radio on stage keeps the audience aware of how late the pair have been up, and the fact that Johnny starts dicing and cooking real ingredients as he prepares Frankie an omelet is somehow unsurprising given the authenticity of the rest of the set and props.
All this said, I did have a couple of uneasy moments with the story. Maybe it’s the age of the script, and maybe it’s just my personal politics, but at one point Frankie, fed up with Johnny, asks that he leave her apartment, and he refuses. Not only does he refuse, he points out that her calling for help will only be ignored in such a large city, and the police would probably take hours to arrive if she called them. I squirmed in my seat, silently urging Frankie to call the cops anyway, because Johnny had officially gone from persistent to creepy. But even before things went that far, I was uncomfortable with Johnny’s “you say no, but I think you mean yes, so I’ll keep asking” attitude. This seems to happen a lot; the woman who says no and the man who has to be persistent to convince her to say yes. Why can’t no just mean no, and why does the man have to know the woman’s mind better than she does?
The other less-awesome thing about the script is that the second act definitely drags and feels a little anti-climactic, for while delving deeper into each character’s past is interesting, it seems that most of the action occurs in the first act.
But these are both concerns with McNally‘s script, not with Casting Spells’ specific production. Under James Detmar‘s insightful directing, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune offers the opportunity to get to know two very believable characters in a less fairy tale, more real life kind of love story.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally, produced by Casting Spells Productions LLC runs November 5-December 6, 2015 at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W Franklin Ave, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets $25-28 at http://www.castingspellsproductions.com/