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LA Theater Review

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune

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Love stories can come in many forms, and Terrence McNally's urban fable about two lonely middle-aged souls who find each other is a poignant reminder of love's fragile nature. The play begins in darkness as the two characters are heard making love. As light emerges, they are seen in a rumpled bed. Then these two disparate characters try to find enough common ground in this one-night stand to build a relationship.

Frankie (Libby West) is a waitress and Johnny (Thomas Fiscella) a short-order cook in the same restaurant. In a reversal of stereotypes, Johnny emerges as the romantic and Frankie as the practical realist who sees Johnny's exuberant protestations of love as "weird." Johnny is voluble and a self-taught philosopher, frequently quoting Shakespeare and using words that high school dropout Frankie feels threatened by. Where Frankie is solitary and cautious, Johnny is ebullient and animated.

McNally plays with light and darkness, symbolically exposing the characters' vulnerabilities as they get to know each other. Moonlight shines on the characters as they listen to "Clair de Lune," played by a sympathetic radio disc jockey Johnny has appealed to, attempting to prevent Frankie from throwing him out until he has made an emotional connection. McNally balances humor with heartache to paint a convincing picture of these two very ordinary people.

Director Todd Nielsen does a fine job of developing nuanced characters. As Frankie and Johnny interact, he keeps them moving about the space, highlighting Frankie's wariness and Johnny's unreserved nature. West and Fiscella have the chemistry to capture the frustrations and tenderness required to make believable the budding love affair.

Stephen Gifford's set design further enhances the ordinariness of Frankie's life with a bare-bones apartment. Chris Kittrell's light and sound design works well with McNally's emphasis on classical music and the waxing and waning light. All in all, it is a good collaboration among actor, director, and author.

Presented by and at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Aug. 29-Sep. 21. (562) 436-4610. www.ictlongbeach.org.

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