If music be the food of love, then Middle Ground’s tour of Frankie & Johnny has consumed Debussy’s haunting movement and produced an engaging, witty play that’s performances will have you laughing and crying throughout.
Terrence McNally’s two-act play sets the scene with two forty-something restaurant workers, Frankie (Kelly McGillis of Top Gun fame) and Johnny (Rolf Saxon), spending the night in Frankie’s New York apartment after their first date. Post coitus, Johnny keenly discusses their future to a reluctant Frankie, as both reveal a string of coincidences and events that further convinces Johnny of their destined connection. McNally’s sharp comebacks and awkward voyeuristic humour shine as the comic relief to what is ultimately a sad tale of loneliness.
Both performers excel at bringing the unlikely lovers to life in believably quirky style. It is as easy to see Frankie’s past insecurities as it is Johnny’s charisma and drive to become someone better. It is here that both McGillis and Saxon’s background in character acting is most convincing. The audience are not patronised into their knowledge Frankie and Johnny; the learning curve is deep and the couple’s own gradual discovery of who each really are is structured in a manner that leaves the audience actually wanting to understand what brought them to this night. Imagine a darker take on Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally and you’re nearly there. Kudos to Saxon for dealing with the lack of an essential prop as professionally as he could in the circumstance; the resultant use of an audience member’s mobile in this 1987 drama being played with good humour.
Frankie’s small apartment is realistically designed by director Michael Lunney, complete with kitchen, toilet and sofa-bed. While not a dump, the set acts as a companion to Frankie’s loneliness, and Lunney directs the performances around the room in such a casual manner that it genuinely feels lived in. Music is played through a prop radio which can unfortunately be a struggle to hear at times, which is a shame, especially in light of the Clair de Lune’s importance to the plot.
It is worth noting that this play contains scenes of nudity from the start. Although occasionally it appears rather gratuitous it is generally done tastefully, (although obviously not suitable for children).
A story of love and loneliness between two strangers in New York feels like a Hollywood tagline with a familiar structure; however it is McNally’s comic writing - teamed with exceptional performances from both McGillis and Saxon - that allows for Frankie & Johnny to remain interesting in territory that has often been trod. ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’