As the play opened, the audience found itself nearly sharing a bed with Frankie and Johnny. (The theater is an intimate space that is well-suited to this type of production.) We quickly learned that we were joining the couple on their first date. After some awkward post-coital conversation, Frankie is quite eager to get Johnny out of her apartment so that she can get back to her solitary life. Johnny has other ideas. Maybe they should get married. How many kids does she want to have? Oh, she can't have kids? Well, they can adopt! His neediness is tangible, and it certainly would have made me run screaming from the room if I were in her place. (At one point Frankie comments that Johnny's persistence makes Diane Keaton's experience in Looking for Mr. Goodbar look like an attractive alternative, so her reaction isn't so dissimilar.) Frankie has her own quirks, though, and it soon becomes clear that, while she is working hard to keep her armor intact, it's because she's been deeply wounded rather than due to a lack of interest.
As a single woman in my 50s, watching a play about two 40 somethings trying to connect wasn't the most comfortable way to spend two hours. Even though I didn't relate to the lives of the characters, the play ultimately makes the point that relationships are hard. Tell me something I didn't know! That doesn't mean it wasn't good theater, though. In fact, I think my level of discomfort is an indication that both Terrence McNally's script and Loretta Siebert and Tim Gunderman's performances hit their mark. McNally (whose other plays include Love! Valour! Compassion!, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Master Class) is known for writing that probes his characters' and his audience's emotions. Siebert and Gunderman embraced their roles and bared themselves to the audience (literally, in the case of Siebert). There was no self-consciousness in their interaction or any seeming awareness of an audience that they could reach out and touch. Instead, we were voyeurs into a few moments in their lives when they attempted to set aside the past and move forward together.
Laboratory Theater has once again put together a professional and high quality production. You can catch Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune through November 24th. Next up: the holiday classic A Christmas Carol. Maybe I'll see you there.