It seems hard to believe it was a year ago that Terrence McNally, often called the Bard of American Theatre, died tragically of Covid-19. In his honor, Metro Stage is streaming a reading of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” directed by Stefan Sittig from April 21 until April 25. Actually, this is not a reading or a recording of a live theater performance but something in between. The actors are not together on stage, but perform “together” in separate locations.
The play opened off-Broadway in 1987 and starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham and then on Broadway in 2002 with Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci (Tony-nominated). It was revived in 2019, again on Broadway, with Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon. (It has received a Tony nomination for Audra McDonald and Best Revival of a Play. The awards will be presented when Broadway reopens). This reading features Veronica del Cerro and Michael Kevin Darnall, with a special appearance by Robert Aubry David as the Radio Announcer.
McNally has a way of capturing the human condition — our need for love, acceptance, and to belong somewhere in this world. In this play, he captures all this simply and sweetly with his two characters. Frankie is a woman in her late 30s who has been hurt emotionally and physically so many times that she is cynical about relationships. In his 40s, Johnny has also been through many hardships in his life but he is still an optimist. When Johnny immediately wants to take the relationship further, Frankie is extremely cautious. When he tells her how attractive she is, especially sexually, she recoils. When he wants to make love, she wants to eat.
Johnny sees their commonality. The two come from the same town, Allentown, PA, but meet working at a restaurant in New York City. They both had mothers who abandoned them at age of seven and have been badly scarred from past relationships. In the early morning hours, he wants to stay and tells her he loves her, and she wants him to leave and tells him this type of talk is crazy. But it is clear that they both need and want each other. Despite their ages, they have finally met the person they need to be with for the rest of their lives. Johnny tells her even their names tell him they are fated. In the moonlight, they listen to a local classical radio station and Frankie begins to relent.
The script is so rich in little subtleties, which the two actors deftly underscore for us…reminds us of what we miss so much — great live theatre and NcNally’s great talent. This performance is a beautiful tribute to both.
The acting is first rate. Del Cerro’s Frankie is awkward with her own sexuality and has trouble revealing her innermost self. We can see the changes as the time progresses. Del Cerro makes these transitions slow and gradual — a smile here, a bit of encouragement there. She allows us and Johnny to see some of the hidden pain that she has felt most of her life, as well as some of the joy.
Darnall is so likable from the outset that we just want him to succeed in capturing Frankie’s heart. He counters del Cerro’s caution with enthusiasm and joy. Even in a streaming format, his eyes tell us so much.
Despite the fact they are not in the same location, both actors manage to create intimacy and desire without ever touching. They capture our hearts and make us look into our own souls and relationships. The script is so rich in little subtleties, which the two actors deftly underscore for us.
Stefan Sittig’s direction allows these two wonderful actors to create this memorable performance. It is only when the Internet transmission has a glitch that we remember the two performers are actually continents apart (Veronica del Cerro lives in Spain). Thanks go to technical director Wendy Roome for making sure the performance went very smoothly, considering the challenges. Kudos should also be given to the actors for coordinating the look of their apartments to help make the setting appear as if they were in the same space.
McNally has been a personal favorite of mine since I was in graduate school and it was his “¡Cuba Si!” that won me over as a lifelong fan. This reading of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” reminds us of what we miss so much — great live theatre and NcNally’s great talent. The performance is a beautiful tribute to both.
“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” streams from April 21 until April 25, 2021 at 7 pm. Admission is free, but you must go to this link to register for free access to the video. (Please Note: Watching these digital readings on a Smart TV eliminates possible internet glitches.) If you can, please donate to Metro Stage’s Capital Campaign which will go to help complete their new venue. They are one of the many theaters that have been impacted financially due to the pandemic. To find out more about this play and Metro Stage, go to their website.
See Susan Brall’s tribute for Terrence McNally for Maryland Theatre Guide from March 2020.