Encore Michigan

Frankie and Johnny at Open Book is intimate and hot

Review January 27, 2020 Encore Staff

By Angela Colombo

TRENTON, Mich.–Chance and connection are at best fleeting like the stream of moonlight that is never the same two nights in a row. Like twine clutching discarded branches that need to be put out for pick up, strong and durable yet camouflaged in the chaos, the tie is easily overlooked. So are chance and connection.

Frankie and Johnny is Terence McNally’s play about finding connection and not letting the chance slip away. The setting is an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen New York. A diner waitress and a short order cook end up in the sack for a passionate romp with no expectations for more than a night. At least on Frankie’s part. Or so she protests.

The play opens with the audience sitting in pitch darkness, listening to the moaning of the couple having sex. The lights come on after they’ve concluded bonking and sighed their final groans of delight.

The awkward conversation of a new relationship ensues and we hear Frankie tell Johnny that the subject of farting is off limits for her. So what does he do? He tells her of his love for Corgis and Frankie follows him down the path opining about the fabness of farting Corgis as Johnny rambles on.

“Do you think I talk too much?” Johnny, played fervently by Patrick Loos, asks, answering his own question, “I admit it, I like the sound of my own voice.”

Frankie and Johnny illustrates the angst for connection when a chance for it lands in the couples’ laps and they don’t know or are not sure what to do with it. We watch them through a series of quips and arguments, trip over themselves, and we realize they are their own worst enemies.

He’s intense and she claims not to like it. Frankie, played warily by Krista Schafer Ewbank, is uncomfortable with his intensity. She’s self-conscious. She conjectures it’s not going to work between them because she’s “more of a BLT person” and says she sees him as “more of a pheasant-under-glass kind of person.”

They discover they have many things in common. Small details. Coincidence, she says. Not a coincidence, he says. They argue over food and sex. Frankie doesn’t want to take anything about him or their tryst seriously. She says they don’t know each other well enough to aspire for more. He tells her, “you’ve known me your whole life and now I’m here.”

The tete-a-tete between the pair goes on this way, at times making us squeamish. The dialogue is raw. Johnny is haltingly direct with Frankie bringing her face to face with her fears and to a place she has probably avoided going most of her life.

Johnny catches the moonlight coming through the window and insists Frankie come look at the moon right then, right now. “It won’t be there later.” There is anxiety on her part to commit to even the simplest request. Maybe it’s because he came on like a needy gangster in their post sex conversations. In the first act Johnny proclaims his love for her, and if this is not enough, goes on to bring up marriage and having kids together. After only one date that culminates in a night of nooky, it’s enough to make any gal run for the hills.

He says, I grab new things hard. She says, too hard. He replies, there’s no such thing when you want something. She enlightens him that there is. The softening and understanding between them begins.

They share thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears. There is apprehension as well as hope in their banter. She worries that he might laugh at her when she tells him she wants to go back to school to be a teacher.

In a city of almost nine million people Johnny ponders why it’s so difficult to connect, and underscores that when you find a connection not to let it pass you by. Johnny believes people only get once chance. Frankie is more pessimistic at the idea of connection at all.

 “In order to truly connect, we must let our guard down and be vulnerable to another person,” said Wendy Katz Hiller, the director of Frankie and Johnny. However, this also open us to hurt and heartbreak, she said. “Allowing one’s self to be vulnerable is an act of extraordinary courage.”

Johnny tells Frankie, “The sun is in a hurry to shine on us.” And when you have the moon and the sun, what more could you want?

Terence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny was first performed off-Broadway in 1987 and has had three Broadway productions and a feature film adaptation.

Open Book Theatre is an intimate space. First row seating is at level with the stage making the audience feel like they are in the room with the action is taking place. Rows are graduated up and visibility is great from all angles, there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Frankie and Johnny will be playing at Open Book Theatre, 1621 West Road in Trenton, weekends through February 22nd.