Stars shine bright in the moonlight

Frankie and Johnny were lovers: Rolf Saxon and Kelly McGillis contemplate embarking on a relationship

Frankie & Johnny in the Clair De Lune

Grand Theatre

****

KELLY McGillis has taken a bit of a hammering in the national press recently. Her crime appears to be that she is not as stunningly attractive, at 52, as she was in Top Gun in 1986. Now there's a shock, people not getting any younger, what is the world coming to.

Miss McGillis might well not be as young as she was, even film stars have to accept second billing to Father Time, but when it comes to acting she still has it and much the same can be said when she shows slightly more than her age in the early nude scenes.

These incidentally are tastefully done and in dim lighting so shouldn't shock a maiden aunt.

FAILED ACTRESS

Kelly is Frankie, a failed actress living in a tiny New York apartment and working as a waitress in a fast food restaurant.

Johnny is an ex-con who is a short order chef in the same restaurant. They might not be losers but they can hardly be classed as winners.

Johnny, played by Rolf Saxon (Mission Impossible) is a romantic dreamer who believes he has found a soulmate in Frankie.

We are introduced to the pair through a rather noisy lovemaking on a darkened stage and then follow them through a night of doubts, recriminations and confession as word by word, sentence by sentence we discover their fears, their past and their hopes.

Frankie is nervous, not wanting to become too involved, not wanting to be hurt. Johnny wants it all turning what could have been left as a one night stand into marriage and kids in a matter of a couple of hours.

The play, dating from 1987, is about loneliness, about 40-something strangers alone in a huge city, about hopes and dreams and people with both a need for and a fear of love and relationship. As the night goes one they love, break up, love and break up until dawn finally arrives.

CLEVER SCRIPT

Heavy stuff but Terrence McNally's clever script never lets the story become depressing. There is plenty of humour in there, bittersweet at times, amid the honesty and confessions and in the hands of McGillis and Saxon we actually believe in the characters and want to know more about them, how they came together and what is going to happen. By the end we actually care about them.

Saxon, a Virginian living in London, keeps his Brooklyn - sorry Brooklyn Heights - accent perfectly with a mix of wisecracks, outlandish statements and alarming honesty.

McGillis is vulnerable, wary and has a life of disappointment behind her and wants to avoid disappointment in the life still to come. She makes us feel we want to protect her from the world.

RADIO PROGRAMME

Through it all, like a thread linking them both together, is their song, the “most beautiful music in the world” that Johnny has requested from the radio programme that is constantly playing in the background. He music is Debussy's Clair de Lune, hence the play's title, but we are never told its name and Frankie and Johnny don't know it but he promises he will go to a record store and buy it for Frankie – he just has to ask for the most beautiful music in the world.

 The radio presenter does not believe Frankie and Johnny exists but plays the music anyhow because he hopes they are out there and he hopes they are in love. And to an extent that is what this play is about - hope and love.

One novelty in the current climate incidentally, is that this is not a play hewn from the film. The film, from 1991 with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, was adapted from the original play and it shows in a work that finds its natural home on stage. Two people discovering about each other and themselves.

McGillis and Saxon ooze quality, creating believable characters  in a production which never fails to engage or hold the audience from the energetic beginning to the thoughtful end. 

A Middle Ground production directed by Michael Lunney it runs to 17-04-10.

Roger Clarke

 

Another view

****

WHEN the curtain rises at the start of Terrence McNally's clever comedy the stage is in darkness, but its not difficult to guess what is going on.

Grunts, groans, gasps and other passionate sounds come from the bedroom of Frankie's small apartment in New York City where the hard-boiled restaurant waitress is entertaining Johnny the chef.

Dimmed lighting eventually reveal the couple in bed together for the first time, and while there is a moment or two of full frontal nudity it's unlikey to prove offensive, especially as there is so much humour in the play.

Two American film stars, Kelly McGillis and Rolf Saxon, are the ideal choice for the roles of Frankie and Johnny, giving the story realism and delivering the dialogue perfectly.

There are some great lines as the pair debate their new relationship, between the sheets, sitting on the bed, or in the kitchen. Johnny, a failed marriage behind him, is convinced they are destined to be together....apparently coming from the same small town in Pennsylvania, but Frankie, approaching 40, is more sceptical.

As they consider the possibility of a life together there are some sparkling exchanges.

A 1991 film version of the story, starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer, had the tagline 'You never choose love. Love chooses you'.

Paul Marston

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