BCP presents ‘Frankie and Johnnie in the Clair de Lune,’ Oct. 21-Nov. 5
Frankie and Johnny are two ordinary, middle-aged people. Frankie is a waitress at a diner where Johnny is a short order cook. In Terrence McNally’s classic play, there are no action sequences. No murder, mayhem or thrills.
“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” is just an honest portrayal of two damaged souls looking for love, director John Manfredi said. McNally’s 1986 two-character play opens Friday at Beaumont Community Players and runs through Nov. 5.
It is an adult play, with mature subject matter, but the characters are relatable because they are so ordinary, Manfredi said.
“Part of the deal of the play, for sure, is that it’s people who are we know, people who we identify with — it is very blue-collar play,” he said. “They are working class people who work in a diner. Johnny has this fabulous speech. He talks about who they are and tells who they are, where they come from. And I think that’s important.”
Actor Heather Rushing, who plays Frankie, said the character is standoffish, guarded, protected.
“She’s a woman who keeps people at an arm’s length away from her,” Rushing said, adding that the play’s themes are as important now as they were when it was written.
“I think (they) are really important now and resonate now, as they did in the late ’80s during the AIDS epidemic — just about how difficult it is to connect to people,” she said. “And I’ve been struggling with that in my personal life. We’ve become so far removed from one another, just as a society, I think we’ve gotten away from making meaningful connections with others. Whether that has to do with social media or living in a post-COVID world, because I know a lot of folks got used to staying at home and being alone.
“I find that people are having a very hard time connecting. It’s hard to make meaningful relationships with people over the last several years.”
When McNally wrote the play, the shadow of AIDS hung over society and today people are divided in other ways, not just because of COVID, Rushing said.
“I think people are just either buried in their own lives or caught up in their own things, or they’re on social media,” she said. “And it’s just made us all sort of hateful and standoffish to one another, as opposed to being open and free to explore the idea of vulnerability with others.”
Jody Reho plays Johnny, whom he said is nearing the edge of the age where he can find love, which is something that has been driving him most of his life.
“Johnny’s made mistakes and squandered opportunities, but he’s still kept a flame for that idea. He thinks he’s found it (with Frankie),” Reho said.
Like the play itself, Johnny is both funny and serious.
“He’s not just one thing,” Reho said. “He definitely has many jokes. He laughs. But there is an intensity to him, especially in moments where he’s trying to convince her of something.”
While “Frankie and Johnny” is considered a great American play by one of the best contemporary playwrights, it is not often done in community theater. Manfredi said it is important BCP bring a variety of plays to the community.
“We chose to do it because we think it’s a beautiful story,” he said. “It’s one of the most well written pieces of American theater — it is poetry, it is musical, it is lyrical. And the story that it tells of these two people is important.”
The play includes nudity and adult language, but Manfredi said that audiences will also get something they might not expect — hope.
“Through the course of the play, I think that we see people reaching out to each other connecting,” he said. “It’s so important, in these times especially, that we connect with each other. There’s such a divide amongst us.
“That’s why it’s important for people to come and see it. It is important to connect — and you only get one chance, sometimes.”
Reho said he appreciates BCP for doing theater that is challenging, not just for the people that put it on, but for the community at large.
“I see this is one of those shows that’s a unique opportunityinthisareatoshare something that otherwise might not be shared,” he said. “The challenging plays and movies are the ones that are worthy of our time. And if we can’t value ourselves and our time and our experience as humans in that capacity, then I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
Ultimately, Rushing said the play offers the idea of trying to let other people see vulnerable parts of ourselves.
“Because there is a risk to that, you know, the risk is, of course, heartbreak,” she said. “But is heartbreak worse than never experiencing meaningful connection” Which one is, is worse?”
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21, 22, 28, 29, Nov. 3, 4, 5, and 2 p.m., Oct. 29.
BCP is located at 4155 Laurel Ave. in Beaumont. For more, visit beaumontstages.com.
This story first ran in the Oct. 21, 2022 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.