In this delicately written and gently directed production of Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune at the Broadhurst Theatre, we watch two characters, in real time, who strip themselves bare - literally and figuratively. Here, however, the nudity is not titillation as much as it is metaphoric.
This is a ridiculous situation for which neither character was prepared. Both Frankie and Johnny work in a local greasy spoon. She has been a waitress for some time, and he is the new line cook. Over the past few weeks they have noticed one another until finally they went out on a date, she invited him home, and he has fallen in love.
This is not what Franke had in mind. She expected a one-night-stand and nothing more. She makes no bones about what she expected and what she now wants, which is for Johnny to leave. Nothing personal but there is the door please. When he refuses, she has no comeback. It is not violent in the remotest way. Johnny has had an epiphany. There is no more time to waste. They are meant for one another and he would rather die than give in. This chance cannot be passed up. Frankie, on the other hand, has a boatload of reasons why this ship should be allowed to leave without her on it.
Michael Shannon often has a sort of sweet scowl that comes over his face when he is studying something. Here he goes over Audra McDonald like a dermatologist who is only missing a magnifying glass. With each glance and phrase, you can actually feel him screwing himself to the sticking place. Johnny has come to the end of being alone. He knows what that is like, and he is willing to trade in his membership to the Solo Club for Frankie. McDonald's Frankie is terrified, and McDonald gives us every color and thread that makes up this tapestry. She allows herself to be plain and nearly ugly as she throws everything she can at Johnny. This Frankie is like a woman who has been given 5 minutes to pack her bag and leave town. Because the law is coming after her. In this case the law is Johnny who is suffering a deep wound from Cupid's arrow.
This is a slow dance with the balance shifting back and forth. As Frankie's walls dissolve, these are left to figure out what to do next. With success comes new challenges. Nothing is simple or taken for granted.
McNally has bestowed a grace on these two lunatics. It is as if once they enter the arena, they are exposed to a kind of magic that engulfs them. After all, the title of the play if translated is Frankie and Johnny in the Moonlight. They who bathe in the moonlight are fortunate indeed. Arin Arbus's direction releases just the right amount of lunacy (another moon term) in these characters so that they end up willing to leap off the cliff called "possible." Their wings are battered and their bodies tired and scarred. Still, they leap.
(Photo by Deen van Meer)
"Ms. Arbus, making a strong Broadway debut after a decade of critical success Off Broadway, seems to have realized that the comedy is crucial, not only because her stars trail tragic associations from most of their previous roles but also because the play can teeter on the edge of bathos. Her strategy of dryness and detail and specificity — leaving the poetry to Natasha Katz’s lighting — pays off."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"For more than two hours, these highly gifted actors—directed by Arin Arbus, and beautifully lit by Natasha Katz—keep a sensitive focus on the gawky humanity of their characters, holding steady through the ups and downs of McNally’s emotional ride. They connect, and they draw us in."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"His-and-her nudity is front and center in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune — but this rom-dram’s success isn’t measured in flesh alone. Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon both bare their bodies and their feelings as Frankie, a guarded waitress, and Johnny, a pushy cook in the same greasy spoon, whose one-night stand could lead to more. So exposed are they that the revival that opened Thursday should be rated X-hilarating."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Post
"It's easy to see why Terrence McNally's 1987 romantic two-hander is being presented on Broadway less than 20 years after its last incarnation. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, about one very long night in which two lonely souls debate whether or not to take a chance on love, is a veritable feast for actors. And in the new revival directed by Arin Arbus, Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon wolf it down with gusto."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"A sentimental reading would mean death for this surprisingly delicate two-hander about the tentative one-night stand of two restaurant workers in Hell’s Kitchen during the plague years of the AIDS epidemic. (“Are we really killing each other?” one asks the other, after they’ve done the dangerous deed.) But helmer Arin Arbus (associate director of Theater for a New Audience) and her high-toned cast of two – Michael Shannon, who can do anything, and Audra McDonald, who can do anything while looking gorgeous – bring this historical artifact to warm-blooded life."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety