Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is an ode to possibility, to the unpredictability of life, to the transformative power of connection in a lonely world.
The playwright’s 1987 two-hander is a dramatic pas de deux for lovers who belong in no one’s idea of a fairy tale. He’s the short-order cook in a simple New York restaurant. She’s a long-time waitress there. Their first date has ended with a noisy, middle-of-the-night romp on the pullout sofa in her tiny Hell’s Kitchen apartment. But it’s the seduction after sex that resonates.
Alliance Theatre (formerly Alliance Theatre Lab) has moved from its longtime home at the Main Street Playhouse to Barry University’s Pelican Theatre for its new production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Artistic director Adalberto Acevedo is still at the company’s helm, and his colleagues include managing director Juan Carlos Besares and dramaturg Allison O’Neil from the late, often great Acme Acting Company. But the Alliance mission remains the same: To produce plays, time-tested and new, with meaty roles for its loose ensemble of actors.
Casey Dressler as the waitress Frankie and Andy Quiroga as the cook Johnny get the meaty roles this time around. The actors are certainly appealing, yet you can buy Johnny’s description of himself and his new lady love as “neither young nor old, and no great beauty, either one.”
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Dressler is amply curvy and taller than Quiroga, and though she looks a shade young for Frankie, she does world-weary quite well. Quiroga, no gym rat, is balding yet hairy, which we know because at some point during the post-coital glow Johnny casually walks to the refrigerator wearing nothing but a pair of black socks.
Initially, the two may seem like a physical mismatch. Yet the performers inhabit their roles so fully, and Quiroga’s ardent Johnny is so persuasive, that the audience buys into his argument that the two are destined to be together.
Over the course of a couple of hours, Johnny woos Frankie with quotations from Shakespeare, some sexually provocative talk and an omnipresent killer smile. Frankie leans in and pulls back, trying to make her garrulous suitor disappear by fixing him a meatloaf sandwich and ushering him out the door so she can get some shut-eye. She doesn’t quite understand that, even though it’s her place, Johnny isn’t going anywhere.
Acevedo’s set with its vintage furniture and appliances, Besares’ important musical sound design and lighting designer Stephanie Meskauskas’ symphony of light and shadows create a simple world where moods can shift in a moment.
Both Dressler and Quiroga find the multiple colors in their characters. So, with the gradually revealed secrets of this Frankie and this Johnny, they create portraits of human beings who have lived, screwed up, been damaged — and now, as in the exquisitely haunting Claude Debussy music referenced in the play’s title, they can feel the magic of infinite possibility in the moonlight.
If you go
What: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally.
Where: Alliance Theatre production in Barry University’s Pelican Theatre, 11300 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through March 15.
Cost: $30 ($25 seniors, $15 students).
Information: 305-259-0418 or www.thealliancetheatrelab.com.