With the accessibility of parties and casual hook-ups for college students, growing old alone is probably absent from our rambunctious minds. When that premise is sugarcoated with an unexpectedly serious fling between a New York City waitress and cook, the result is a touchingly familiar commentary on loneliness and the depths people travel to be together. Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, currently playing at the Kitchen Theatre in the Commons, reflects the struggles of finding and accepting love in modern times. Its 1987 off-Broadway debut, 2002 Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival and 1991 film adaptation were all well received. The Kitchen Theatre’s adaptation, directed by Rachel Lampert, also succeeds in bringing to life the very true and human experiences McNally packs into Frankie and Johnny.
The Kitchen provides the perfect setting for this intense and intimate play. The setup resembles a black box theatre, where about 120 seats comfortably surround an open stage without a curtain. This open layout instantly embraces the audience as the exciting opening scene depicts Frankie (Rachel Burttram) and Johnny (Brandon Morris) engaging in an animalistic one night stand. If the Kitchen was any smaller, the audience would be in bed beside them. This personal setup drags the audience into the scene, almost as if looking on from a one-way mirror three feet off the edge of their bed. However, the close proximity to your neighbor makes the taboo nature of the opening scene more enjoyable as you share a laugh that is fluent throughout the theatre. Despite the too-calculated placement of scattered clothes and other objects in the room, the use of real food and drink throughout the play adds to its realism. Cooking sessions cleverly separate scenes while still remaining in the same environment of a studio apartment.
Rachel Burttram makes her debut at the Kitchen Theatre after numerous stints at the Florida Repertory Theatre, including the plays August Osage County and Amy’s View. Burttram plays Frankie, the 39-year-old waitress whose life experiences prompt her to treat potential love interests with caution. Burttram’s thick New York accent raises some confusion since her character is supposed to have grown up in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, her overall disposition is believable and evocative. You can feel her aching with frustration as she stares at a building across the street, holding Johnny and whimpering. Her pain overwhelms the audience. Growing up in an impoverished single parent household, Frankie is a cultured woman trapped under miserable circumstances. Burttram’s performance grips the heart of the viewer long after the stage lights have dimmed.
Also making his debut at the Kitchen is Brandon Morris, who frequents Burn Notice as Agent Lane and has starred in the world premiere of Lee Blessings’ Black Sheep. Morris and Burttram are dynamic counterparts; not only are both totally underdressed, but their onstage chemistry also sizzles. As Johnny, Morris belts out pure emotion when reacting to Frankie’s hesitance in accepting his love. He also manages to bring out McNally’s lyrical subtleties. Through his gait and mannerisms, Morris simultaneously hints at Johnny’s poor upbringings and debates the meaning of Shakespeare. Morris highlights the very essence of Johnny’s abstract character and willingness to give himself completely to Frankie.
Besides some very minute slip-ups in timing and set details, this two-act play pulls in the audience from the first second and does not let go until long after the play has concluded. The Kitchen’s rendition transposes time, leaving the audience unaware that the play was meant to be viewed within the window of 1987. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is exciting (probably too exciting to take your parents to), thought-provoking and real, leaving the audience tangled up in an everyday fairytale.
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune plays at the Kitchen Theatre until September 16.
Original Author: Alex Rehberg