by Jeremy Berg
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune‘s opening line spells trouble in paradise. Its final moments suggest, literally, the dawn of a new and better day. Running in near real time, Frankie and Johnny has a little under two hours to make us believe a first date can turn into a true emotional bond. A tough task, but one that the Boulevard Theatre’s production succeeds at admirably. As a two character play, Frankie and Johnny is first and foremost reliant on the chemistry between its actors. Laura Neuser Monagle (Frankie) and Michael Weber (Johnny), bring a realistic interaction to the stage, forging not just two believable characters, but a believable unit, such that the comedic coincidences of Frankie and Johnny‘s lives (both born in Allentown, PA, same nickname for their grandmothers, etc.) are eclipsed by the deeper, subtler, and far more important similarities that get revealed as the night goes on. Boulevard’s choice of this play is a good one. Their performance space is small — you actually have to cross the stage to get from one seating area to another — and makes a very believable cramped New York City apartment. It also lends an immediacy to the play, the lack of space turned into an asset by director Kurt Hartwig’s staging, which plays well to all three sides of the house. He also manages a lot of physical movement in a small space, matching the characters’ emotional movements in the confines of the evening. Credit is due to Terrence McNally’s script as well, of course. It’s not without its flaws — Johnny is sometimes a degree or two weirder than the rest of the play — but the fact that that stands out speaks to a larger degree of success. What McNally has created are, oversized quirks aside, two very real people. The situation is improbable, but not outrageously so, and as Frankie and Johnny open up to each other, they become ever more human, revealing traumas, flaws, and charms that are uniquely theirs, but instantly recognizable. There are no deep, dark secrets and shocking plot twists here, nor is there exactly a fairy tale ending — just two tired but hopeful people who come to realize that the latest solitary phase of their lives may have just ended. Frankie and Johnny offers no great lessons and no mighty victories, but reminds us that the small ones can be every bit as important. Frankie and Johnny runs through April 10. The Boulevard Theatre is located at 2252 S. Kinnickinnic (414/744-5757). Call first as there are only 40 seats. The Boulevard Theatre is looking for new talent, stage managers, designers, office interns, and volunteers. Find out more, including production schedules, at www.boulevardtheatre.com.