Two plays about love
Published Thursday, 27-May-2010 in issue 1170
‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’
That moon will do it every time – well, the moon in combination with loneliness, desperation and maybe a little boredom.
As Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune opens, the characters are grunting and moaning in the throes of mutual orgasm. Colleagues at a New York greasy spoon – Johnny’s a short-order cook, Frankie a waitress – both have suffered dashed dreams and stunted lives. But tonight, they’ve shared a bad meal, a worse movie and now sex to the strains of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” on the radio in Frankie’s dreary Hell’s Kitchen walk-up. What’s next?
A smashing production of playwright Terrence McNally’s charming theatrical paean to middle-age love, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, plays through June 1 at ion theatre. Claudio Raygoza directs.
Frankie (DeAnna Driscoll) has accepted that her life is not as she’d envisioned and has retreated into her comfortable routine. She’s erected a tough exterior over the aching need and the tiny little spark of hope, and what she wants now is for Johnny (Jeffrey Jones) to go away so she can return to her familiar though solitary life.
Johnny has his own sorrows – a divorce and two kids he rarely gets to see, that forgery stretch in prison, a foster-home upbringing and the fact that he never finished high school. But this ex-con motormouth with a dictionary and Shakespeare in his locker sees greater possibilities with Frankie and won’t take no for an answer. “People are given one moment to connect,” he tells her. “Not two, not three, one! They don’t take it, it’s gone forever.”
Can these two really connect? Can they forget the “million reasons not to love one another” and leave it to the moon and “the most beautiful music ever written” (according to the radio DJ), Debussy’s “Clair de Lune?”
McNally has constructed a little gem here, and Raygoza has found the right pair to make it shine. Driscoll is a wonder – alternately delighted, frightened, confused, angry and – despite herself – even a little hopeful.
Jones’ Johnny is endearing, but also maddening, pushy and just the type who would make most women want him out of their vicinity right now. But it’s hard not to empathize with a guy who says, “I’m trying to improve my life and I’m running out of time.”
Glenn Paris designed the just-right set – Frankie’s slightly cramped, not-quite-neat apartment where the sofa bed takes up most of the space, and costumes, sound and lighting all combine to make this one of the best productions of the year.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune plays through June 1, 2010 at ion theatre. Shows Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 4 and 7:30 p.m. For tickets call (619) 600-5020 or visit www.iontheatre.com.
‘The Taming of the Shrew’
Shakespeare’s plays have been done in just about every way imaginable, including setting Othello on a high school basketball court, making Hamlet a revenge story about the death of a high-powered New York business exec. and setting Richard III in an imaginary fascist London.
But two women in their 60s as the protagonists of Taming of the Shrew? That’s a new one on me.
Christy Yael and Sean Cox of the aptly named Intrepid Shakespeare Company give us the Bard’s beloved comedy, with Jenni Prisk as Kate and Sandra Ellis-Troy as Petruchi(a), in a rollicking, short-form Shrew stuffed with shtick that moves at lightning speed and uses Kiss Me Kate as background music.
But you know what they say about too many cooks, and it’s the same with too many directors. This show is directed by a triumvirate: Cox, Yael and associate director Jason D. Rennie – which may account for its scattered approach.
Accessibility is Intrepid’s by-word, so the production adds sitcom-level comedy like a blind character Will never invented (and of questionable yuk value), who keeps running into furniture and walls. Then it subtracts many of the scenes of Kate being shrewish. The result is that Prisk has difficulty establishing her character, who is here mostly relegated to standing around glowering or sounding angry.
Of course, the reason for the drama is that Kate the Curst’s charming younger sister Bianca (Wendy Waddell) has many suitors and wants to marry, but by Elizabethan custom the elder daughter must marry first. (That Waddell happens to be pregnant is nicely camouflaged by Beth Merriman’s costumes.)
It stretches credulity well past even Midsummer Night’s Dream to imagine that any father (Elizabethan or otherwise) would still hold out hope of marriage for daughters in their 50s and 60s. Despite that, Ellis-Troy shines (and even convinces) as the gold-digging Petruchia come to Padua to find a wealthy – well, to find wealth. Prisk is best in the problematic “submission” speech at the end, which somehow does make more sense in a lesbian context.
But the rest of the characters are pretty much left to fend for themselves, and they do so with varying success. Waddell is flirty and fine as the younger sister. Danny Campbell is good as Vincentio, father of Lucentio, another Bianca suitor.
Mostly, though, there’s just stuff going on rather than a cohesive whole. Still, I can’t complain about the rollicking evening it provides. It may not be quite Will anymore, but it is fun.
Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s The Taming of the Shrew plays through June 6, 2010 in repertory with Shakespeare’s King John at TheTheatre Inc. Shows Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. For schedule and tickets, call (760) 652-5011 or visit www.intrepidshakespeare.com.