Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Rob Spiegel

Mike Long and Jessica Osbourne
Photo by Russell Maynor
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is a 1987 romantic play by Terrance McNally. In 1991, McNally turned the story into a movie, with the shortened title Frankie and Johnny, which starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. In the movie, the characters have a touch a glamor, but that's not the case in the play.

Frankie (Jessica Osbourne) and Johnny (Mike Long) are not quite broken, but they're badly bent. The story opens in Frankie's Hell's Kitchen apartment as they finish making love on their first date. They know each other from work, where he's a short order cook and she's a waitress. There's brief nudity at the beginning—and again a bit later—but it's tasteful and helps center the play's naturalism.

In this Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill production, both actors deliver strong performances, which is critical for making the play work. We need to get the full depth of emotions that are only suggested by the dialog. McNally's words are powerful, while also naturalistic, but the actors are required to deliver a ton of shading and color. Both Osbourne and Long are a delight to watch, and they are more than up to the task of delivering these two semi-lost souls.

Osbourne has the more difficult job. Her emotions take wild swings during the night, while Johnny sings one note. He insists that they have found true love, and this may be their last shot at it, so they have to take the deep dive. Frankie is naturally skeptical. This is their first night together, and they've only known each other for three weeks at work. Frankie comes from a background of abuse. Johnny's a charmer. Abusers often begin as charmers.

Johnny's insistence on true love is worthy of skepticism. He's completely convinced they've found true love right here and right now, but he's not completely convincing. Will he still be in love two years from now? As Johnny struggles to convince Frankie of their new-found love, he doesn't completely convince the audience. He's in his mid-40s. He's divorced. He's had trouble with forgery that landed him in prison. The audience itself is naturally skeptical.

Long delivers a Johnny who's convincing through quite a bit over the top. But Johnny is a piece of work that might be cracked under the surface. Maybe our skepticism comes from the reasonable thought that true love can't be found in one night. Or can it? If it can, I'm not sure the Johnny character will be the guy to convince me. You get the impression that Johnny believes everything he's saying about his feelings for Frankie.

Long hits the sweet spot with Johnny, but once he hits that spot, all he has to do is stay with it. Osbourne, on the other hand, has to deliver about 40 different emotions over the course of their night together. She starts out thinking he's a fun date and a nice one-night stand. Then she thinks he's a creep. Then she wants to call the cops. Then she thinks maybe he's harmless. Then she thinks he's kinda cute. Then she thinks he might be onto something with this love magic, and then she kicks herself for believing it for a minute. Then she thinks he's a creep again. Osbourne makes each one of these whiplash emotions credible in the moment.

When I saw that Osbourne had been cast as Frankie, I knew we were in for a special performance, having seen her in a number of plays. She's stunning. The other times I've seen her were in ensemble performances, and I was left wanting more. With Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the guts of the story are Frankie's emotions. I figured I was in for a real treat with this production, and I certainly was. She's even better than I expected.

Hats off to director Kristine Holtvedt who came in from Purdue University to work with Producing Artistic Director Victoria J. Liberatori to put the production together. This is their eighth show together. The set—Frankie's apartment—by Alexandra Buresh with construction by Bradley Roe and assistance and painting by Dannie Offner is just perfect. Likewise the excellent sound and lighting by Casey Mraz and Ben Kesselring, respectively. This is a gotta-see production I'll long remember.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, through July 15, 2018, at Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill, 3011-3015 Monte Vista Blvd, NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. ATG members, service members, and seniors are $19. Students are $15. Reserve tickets at or by calling 254-7716.