Kearns as Frankie, left, and Todd Denning as
Johnny in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production
of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”
by Paul Ruffolo
- ”Frankie and Johnny” is a story you may have
encountered, if not on stage, perhaps in the 1991 film
starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino.
is a love story of sorts, though not your typical one.
It’s funny and poignant in about equal measure.
two movie stars, by the way, are way too beautiful for
this story. Marcella Kearns and Todd Denning, presently
playing at Milwaukee Chamber, carry the guts of the
story with much more credibility. I’d be surprised if
playwright Terrence McNally cast the movie.
is a short-order cook and Frankie a waitress in the same
restaurant. They decide to go out on a date and end up
in Frankie’s bed in her tiny tawdry apartment.
play opens in the dark with only the grunts and squeaks
of sexual delight. After about five minutes of that, the
lights go up and we meet the noisy participants - a
middle-aged, not terribly attractive man and woman.
one of the things I like best about this play. These are
ordinary people, people whose lives have not measured up
to their dreams, people who are survivors, nonetheless.
We like them. They have flaws. We can relate.
a torrent of words gushes forth from Johnny with Frankie
responding in disbelief. Who is this guy, where is he
coming from, and why won’t he leave so she can resume
her peaceful evening watching TV, eating ice cream, and
going to sleep?
are obviously feeling quite differently about each other
at this point.
wants to pursue the connection, thinking it has some
long-term hope of survival. He even mentions love,
marriage, having a family.
thinks he’s off his gourd.
can tell they’re really both quite needy, but he’s
as desperate and pushy as she is cautious and guarded.
thoughts are: Why disrupt their drab lives when they are
presently not inordinately unhappy and their futures are
though we may lean more toward one than the other’s
point of view and may have our doubts about their
future, we are totally engaged in watching the process.
It doesn’t hurt that both Kearns and Denning are
piece of music and a bit of moonlight also become part
of the story. As they are finishing their initial
lovemaking, a beautiful piece is being played on the
radio. Frankie mentions how much she liked it, so Johnny
calls into the station and tries to have it re-played
and dedicated to them.
DJ didn’t know which piece she was so admiring of, so
he promised instead to play the most beautiful piece he
could find. “Clair de Lune” begins playing. Frankie
also notices a splash of moonlight coming in through the
a mix of romance and reality.
it hold? Who knows? Who can ever predict the maddening
ambivalence of any relationship?
MacDonald Kerr does an excellent job of directing.
it. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has ever tried
or failed or succeeded in understanding and loving
another human being.
“Frankie and Johnny”
drama runs through Oct. 15 at the Studio Theatre, 1158
N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Call 414-291-7800 or visit