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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune by Elyse Sommer

It's been ten years since the Manhattan Theatre Club's Off-Broadway launch of Terrence McNally's funny and moving dramatic ode to the possibility of the impossible dream that connects two of life's lost and damaged losers. McNally's career has been on a steady upward swing ever since.

In 1991 those who missed this off-beat love story got to see a movie version which, thanks to a screenplay by McNally and a terrific cast headed by Al Pacino and the unlikely, but surprisingly successful Michelle Pfeiffer, worked very well. Fine as the movie was, there's something special about the intimacy and single-set, two-character play that have given it "legs" to carry it to theaters throughout the United States and the world. Happily for Berkshire theater goers, a splendid production is enjoying a two week run at one of the area's most modest and interesting theatrical venues, The Miniature Theatre of Chester.

While rating symbols are reserved by copyright for movies, consider this R rated if you're squeamish about on stage nudity and sex. As soon as the play begins and cloaks Tim Holcomb's nicely detailed set in darkness you hear orgasmic moans coming from the direction of the opened sleep sofa. As the advance notices about the show warn, that sexually charged opening is not an isolated moment. Like any McNally play, however, people and not sex is what this play is about. And like all his work, the McNally hallmarks are all over the place, to be specific: Dialogue that's crisp and literate, funny and poignant. Lines like "I'm sick of living this way--like we're all going to die from each other" are, sad to say, as timely now as it was ten years ago.
  • Music that's beautiful and integral to the narrative. To put sound to the play's title there's Debussy's lovely score. There's also a bit of Wagner and Bach's Goldberg Variations ("I guess Bach was Jewish--Goldberg variations," Frankie, who's more familiar with the Beatles than Bach. says at one point)
  • Characters who win your heart completely with the naked honesty of their emotions.
In essence Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is a modern fairy tale about middle-aged people leading humdrum lives in dreary surroundings. She's an ordinary looking, not very clever waitress scarred by an abusive relationship. He's a short-order cook (in the restaurant where they both work) with a past that includes jail and a failed marriage. Yet, from the romantic matchup of their names to a laundry list of other coincidental similarites, these damaged souls personify the possiblity that a one-night stand can metamorphose into a real and soul-healing relationship.

Under Peter Bennett's able direction the story of Frankie and Johnny builds slowly--(somewhat too slowly during part of the first act)--towards its emotionallyhigh-voltage climax. Bonnie Black and Kevin McClarnon fully capture the pain and yearning that transforms this unlikely duo into the stars of a real life romantic opera. Ms. Black, who strongly resembles a young Julie Harris, has no problem being convincing as the no longer young survivor of the relationship wars. McClarnon gets deep underneath the muscled facade of the desperately needy Johnny. To move things along, there's also a third and very important character--the unseen but important off-stage announcer who plays "the most beautiful music in the world" because he wishes, as you will, that there "really is a Frankie and Johnny.""

by Terrence McNally
Directed by Peter Bennett
Starring Bonnie Black and Kevin McLarnon
The Miniature Theatre of Chester
Chester Town Hall, Middlefield Road. Chester, MA (413)354-7771
8/05/97-8/17/97 (opening 8/06)

Some Background on The Miniature Theatre of Chester
The theater which holds performances at the Chester Town Hall was founded in 1990 by Vincent Dowling, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, and an internationnally acclaimed director and actor.

The theater's focus is on small cast productions. Small and somewhat off-the-beaten path as it is, the Miniature Theatre has attracted its share of stars which include Kim Hunter, Kenneth Tigarand Rita Gam.

Since 1996, Peter Bennett, the director of the currently reviewed show, has served as artistic director

As was the case this season, there are usually four shows each summer. This season's lineup, besides the current show included The Diaries of Adam and Eve (an adaptation by David Birney of Mark Twain's stories, Uh-Oh, Feydeau and later this month, >John and Teddy a world premiere production about Sierra Club founder, John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt .

Since Chester is a distance from the Berkshires'smany restaurants, the theater has this year innovated gala opening night buffets prepared by Chester Foundation Members (at a bargain price of $8.50). With ticket prices just $15 ($12 for seniors), the Miniature Theater is one of the best entertainment buys in the Berkshires.
deb and harry's wonderful things -  crafts .  yarns

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