JWR Articles: Live Event - Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (Director: Rod Ceballos) - September 16, 2004

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

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Moonlight lacks glow

Frankie and me we were lovers
Oh Lordy how we could love
Swore we’d be true to each other
Just as true as stars above
I was her man, she caught me doing her wrong.

—Elvis Presley version of Fred Karger’s timeless song

Your soul is a chosen
Where charming masked and
costumed figures stroll
Playing the lute and dancing
and almost
Sad under their fantastic

—first stanza, Paul Verlaine poem, which inspired Debussy’s “Clair de lune
Translated by Elodie Lauten

Comparing the poetry above gives theatre-goers a glimpse at the contrast of ideas, moods and tones that are required to bring Terence McNally’s comedy-romance to life. From the opening passionate grunts and groans of the storied lovers as they gamely fulfill the lust portion of their first date, it was clear that, like love itself, their intent was strong but complete fulfillment far from guaranteed.

Emerging naked from the darkness, (but always tastefully so, thanks to director Rod Ceballos’ ever-sensitive staging and a discreet lighting plan from Christopher Dennis) Frankie (Zorana Kydd, revelling in a production that begins rather than closes with the dénouement) and Johnny (Peter van Wart, equally passionate for the world’s finest literature and his co-worker waitress) reveal more of themselves than McNally’s subtle undercurrents of two loners aching to find common ground.

While they sing in the minor
The victory of love and the
opportunities of life,
They do not seem to believe
in their happiness
And their song blends with
the moonlight.

—second stanza, Paul Verlaine poem

Music is the third lead, initially providing romantic background during the post coitus opening scenes then taking stage when “the most beautiful music in the world” is dedicated to the love-struck couple by the late-night classical talk-show host (able veteran Russ Germain who gets the best line of the show bemoaning his own lonely soul, sharing his nights with great art and a microphone). But, ironically, in sound designer Thomas Payne’s laudable effort to make the broadcast seem to come from a bedside radio, the spoken words are difficult to decipher and the impact of the music (with the exception of Act II’s “Ride of Viagra” opening) does no service to Bach, Debussy or—worse—convince anyone of the lushness and eroticism contained in the impressionistic master’s delicate essay.

This lack of balance leaks into Frankie and Johnny’s delivery, falling just short of true anger, fear or love—the music done us wrong.

The quiet moonlight, sad
and beautiful,
Which gives dreams to the birds
in the trees
And makes the fountain sprays
sob in ecstasy,
The tall willowy fountain sprays
among the marble statues

—final stanza, Paul Verlaine poem

Rebecca Hodgson’s set is a marvel of recreation and efficiency, allowing the construction of a “western” and a bedroom filled with memories past, freshly made.

Many magical moments pepper the production thanks to Ceballos’ full menu of thoughtfully crafted detail. The pace ebbs and flows with impressive certainty and artfully mixes moments of silly fun (Daffy Duck lives!) and sober introspection (should we spend the entire night?), playing on the amiability of the desperate couple even as their search for each other ends rather than concludes. JWR

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Playwright - Terrence McNally
Director - Rod Ceballos
Set and Costume Designer - Rebecca Hodgson
Lighting Designer - Christopher Dennis
Sound Designer - Thomas Ryder Payne
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