Sunday, September 14, 2003

Frankie and Johnny (Ensemble)

'FRANKIE AND JOHNNY' an outstanding, must see at Ensemble

Last year one of the biggest Broadway hits was a revival of Terrance McNally’s ‘FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’. It was produced by the wunderkinds of producers, Cleveland’s Hank Unger, Matt Rego and Mark Rego. The show starred Edie Falco (of “The Sopranos”) and Stanley Tucci. The original 1987 off-Broadway production featured Kathy Bates and Bruce Weitz in the title roles. A 1991 film adaptation called ‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY’ starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. None of these stars has anything on Charles Kartali and Julia Kolibab, who are portraying the roles in Ensemble Theatre’s production.

‘FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ is a simple show about simple people in complicated times. In this age of bigger than life plays, movies which center on explosions, car chases, space shots and super heroes, this story of “little” people with real problems, is a totally different entertainment experience.

This is the story of a short-order cook and a waitress who purge their loneliness with a night of casual sex. When the sexual act is over, Frankie just wants to eat a cold meatloaf sandwich and go to sleep alone. However, Johnny would rather "bask in the afterglow" and spends the wee hours of the morning trying to convince Frankie that they have something special together. The resulting conflict contains laughs as well as dialogue that allows the audience to examine their own perceptions of loneliness, sex, love and what it means for people to connect.

This is a dialogue show, not one of action. In order for a production to work both characters have to be played with strength, control, correct timing and clarity. The director must have a complete understanding of the plays’ nuances. All of these are present in the Ensemble Theatre production.

Kolibab and Kartali are so comfortable and charming in their portrayals that audience members cannot help but empathize with them, feeling their pain and joy.

Kartali (Johnny)is absolutely endearing as he verbally and physically leaps from emotion to emotion, ever babbling, ever cajoling. He is totally natural, totally believable. This is a flawless performance.

Kolibab (Frankie) is his match. You feel her hurt, you feel her joy, you understand her motives. She adds a vulnerable reality to a performance that makes her and the character one.

Licia Colombi’s direction is probably the finest she has done. She understands the script, and her actors, and weaves the fine line between comedy and drama. The show is perfectly paced and the script well interpreted.

The set, as designed by Stephen Vasee, is totally functional, though the television set in the center of the stage did block some audience members view of the bed, on which much of the action takes place. Corby Grubb’s sound design is well conceived and helps develop a very necessary segment of the production.

Capsule judgement: Ensemble’s production of ‘FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE’ is one of those special nights of theatre that makes us know what theatre should be all about. It is one of the finest productions seen at a local theatre. It should be noted that this show contains sexual situations, adult language and nudity by both actors.