Monday, February 18, 2013

Frankie and Johnny Full Monty


Jessica Blair (Frankie) and Bert Rotundo (Johnny)
It’s difficult to think about Frankie and Johnny without hearing the words to the familiar folk song or to picture Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer in their film title roles.  Be that as it may, two brave actors have taken up the challenge, producing Terrence McNally’s original play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune for themselves. This is one of those theatre pieces that lives through its “to the bone” honesty; honesty’s frustrations and ultimately a romantic resolution.  It’s a vehicle for strong actors.  It’s a love story. It takes place in two acts where just one may have been enough. 

The playwright was well into his forties when the first production went up with Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham Off Off Broadway as the title characters. McNally’s ear for language and the human condition echoes in the two hander as brought to life at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Toluca Lake. 

Jessica Blair (Frankie) and Bert Rotundo (Johnny), while working in Sal Romeo’s  Acting Workshop at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre, began to develop their connection to McNally’s piece as an acting exercise.  Encouraged by Romeo, they expanded the scene study into a full production of the play.  In this tiny space, seeing unabashedly naked actors post coital after experiencing the coitus climaxticus (is that a word?) in the first few minutes of an opening scene that has the audience literally in the dark lets us know that certainly something is up!  Lights up reveal Frankie, a waitress and Johnny, a middle aged short order cook catching their breath after… well, you know. They have met at the diner where they both work, each having more or less settled after years of bouncing around in life.  Both from Allentown, PA with amazing coincidences that make Johnny think the miracle of love is blossoming right before his eyes leaves Frankie not being quite so sure.  In fact, Johnny’s insistence that Frankie is “The One!” creates dramatic tension that the actors come close to revealing.

First act evolves slowly while the second act picks up considerably.  “I didn’t ‘conk out’,”says Johnny, “I’m resting,” as an attempt at a second go ‘round fizzles.  “This has never happened to me before,” elicits knowing chuckles.  It’s all up hill and down from there as the two find their way through uncomfortable demands and expectations.

Director Franc Ross keeps things moving in natural beats with McNally’s dialogue carrying the piece through each character’s issues to the conclusion that Johnny has predicted in the first five minutes of the play. However, for two hours both characters come and go like karma chameleons.

Both Blair and Rotundo (who also produces) seem comfortable and comfortably uncomfortable in their skins, which we see a considerable lot of in the first act.  It seemed to me that the ease with which each actor handled being entirely naked on stage might have been more appropriate in 2013 than in 1987 when the story is set.  Frankie’s Girl Scout sash with merit badges on display might indicate a bit more modesty.  Of course, the essence of the story involves Johnny’s being totally in love with every aspect of Frankie’s being, especially as she changes from a modest robe to a black satin number.  Both actors are in tune with the play, really working most successfully in the second act.

Serviceable lights and set and by Maarten Cornelis and Erin Gunnette, respectively, work just fine.   

 Full disclosure: Producer/Director/Acting Coach Sal Romeo is an old theatre friend. He has been active teaching, producing and directing for many years at his tiny 34 seat Toluca Lake Sidewalk Studio Theatre.  His generosity (making this space available for small productions such as this one) and dedication to the spirit of live theatre is commendable.

Sal Romeo and Friends and Artists Present:


By Terrance McNally

Sidewalk Studio Theatre

4150 Riverside Drive

Toluca Lake, CA  91505
Running through Sun March 3rd
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
Tickets $10.00
May be purchased online:

Tickets and information: 818 558 5702

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