- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2007

She wants a hookup; he wants a connection.

Will Frankie (Kate Buddeke) and Johnny (Vito D’Ambrosio) make it past the morning after? The gulf between sex and intimacy is explored with earthy joie de vivre in Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” a 1987 play that seems racier and more pertinent than “Sex and the City” reruns under the expert guidance of director David Muse and two splendid actors in the title roles.

A show about a one-night stand that could turn into something lasting is not the newest thing under the sun or between the sheets. It’s the unbridled raunch and honesty of Arena’s production that grabs you — not just the nudity and the comic, coital sounds that comprise the play’s hilarious opening scene, but the emotional, unretouched nakedness the actors are willing to display throughout. You are also buoyed by the tendril of hope in this working-class fairy tale, which shows that a little moonlight and tunes from a classical music radio station can overcome some of the biggest impediments to romance — in this instance, a cramped New York apartment and a lumpy sofa bed.

The lovers also bed down with hefty trash bags of past disappointments, emotional scars and lousy track records with relationships. Both had mothers who ran off when they were children, trapping Frankie in that prickly state of suspension that comes from a lifetime habit of waiting to be rescued and turning Johnny into a restless soul who never stays in one place too long.

For all their blue-collar trimmings — Frankie’s a waitress, Johnny’s the cook and they both talk like longshoremen — the pair have dreams of bettering themselves. Johnny keeps a copy of Shakespeare’s plays in his locker, and his palooka renditions of famous quotations from “Hamlet” and “Julius Caesar” turn the Bard into a lovable working-class hero. Frankie, whose warmest memory from childhood was playing the lead in a school production of “Brigadoon,” has a secret desire to be a teacher.

The soul-destroying life of a minimum-wage worker they can handle. Sex, they can handle. It is when Johnny decides to take a stand and push for something more that Frankie faces up to all the insecurities and bugaboos holding her back in love and life. Not that she is unjustified in holding back — Johnny comes on so strong and unrelentingly needy that he wavers between Romeo and psycho.

Miss Buddeke’s Frankie is so stubbornly alive — defensive and damaged, yet refreshingly candid in the appeasement of her appetites — you can easily grasp why Johnny’s so crazy about her. She’s a crabbed, sensual being and in Miss Buddeke’s alert and exquisitely timed performance that is not a contradiction in terms. Mr. D’Ambrosio’s plays Johnny as the kind of big-hearted, expansive lug who just fills up a room — which can either be ingratiating or suffocating. To watch her be the pin that constantly bursts his bubble is a source of wry pleasure.

“Frankie and Johnny” contains lots of simulated sex and blue talk that makes you want to slap a condom over your ears. But the potential for real intimacy is seen when the lovemaking is over and Frankie and Johnny step out of the moonglow and stop sucking in their guts. Getting someone to sleep with you is not that difficult, but cooking a Western omelet in the middle of the night and letting a guy use your spare toothbrush — now that’s amore.

WHAT: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” by Terrence McNally

WHERE: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays; 7:30 p.m., Sundays; selected noon matinees on Wednesdays. Through April 8.

TICKETS: $46 to $66

PHONE: 202/488-3300


Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide