Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is designed to be discomforting. The Casting Spells Productions staging of this 1987 Terrence McNally play, which opened last night at the Theatre Garage, does not shy from this. The resulting experience is raw, uncomfortably intimate in its closeness, and unrelenting. Whether this works for you or not is a matter of taste shaded by age and propelled in part by how much caffeine you’ve consumed.
The late night events of Frankie and Johnny unfold exclusively in Frankie (Shanan Custer)’s living room and kitchen, where she and Johnny (Charles Hubbell) inaugurate events with a loud coital romp in the opening scene. (Fair warning: there is a fair bit of nudity in this production.) Relatively speaking, this is actually one of the least intimate events in the play, as James Detmar’s direction shies away from giving the audience more than the briefest of breaks from the tensions that build. This play may have moments of levity, but lightness is not crafted as part of the experience. However compelling Hubbell’s performance, it butts against the uncomfortable realities and questions of the script, which Custer’s performance brings to life perhaps a little too well.
The danger in this constant intensity is that it threatens to become numbing, especially in the middle of Act 2. (Suggestion: Don’t sit in the front two rows unless you like being right in the middle of such things.) The opening night audience didn’t seem especially bothered by this, although the libation line was notably packed. Teetotalers are advised to find another source of intermission stimulation to see things through to the end, because the second half doesn’t let up, either. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride.
For more information about this play, read the Twin Cities Arts Reader’s interview with James Detmar.