Today being World AIDS Day, I’m remembering again all my friends and family who died from the disease in the ‘80s – which is when Terrence McNally wrote FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE. Although it was written with AIDS in mind, it’s not about AIDS per se…it’s more about the world after the plague. As Frankie tells Johnny, she longs for times gone by, when people weren’t afraid of each other. Frankie and Johnny are two misfits, groping their way through the darkness alone. Now they have the chance to connect to someone before it’s too late, despite the odds, despite the fear.
The New Repertory Theatre’s heartfelt production (playing through Dec. 19th) unites two of Boston’s best actors for the thorough workout that is McNally’s intense two character play. Director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman emphasizes the naked vulnerability of the pair—which works in all but one aspect. We’re to believe Johnny when he says neither of them is a prize. Both Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton create characters who are scarred and flawed–but when the physical is out there for us to see, I wondered why Johnny didn’t notice that Frankie is drop dead gorgeous. (Kathy Bates originated the role although Michelle Pfeiffer starred in the film—and managed to look dowdy, believe it or not.)
Gottlieb is such a skilled performer that I soon forgot my reservations and was swept up in Frankie’s desperate attempt to keep pain (and love) away. You see why she wants to keep this needy, cloying man at bay but you’re rooting for him all the same. McNally does the impossible, creating romance out of sheer isolation.