REVIEW: Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (Hubris)

     
     

An Ordinary Love Story

     
     

Kitchen.FandJ copy

   
Hubris Productions presents
   
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
  
Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by
Jacob Christopher Green
at
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through December 31  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

There’s something oddly sentimental about Terrence McNally’s 1987 anti-romance, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. The titular lovers are not typical rom-com fare. For one, they are both pushing forty. They are famously plain in appearance. Neither has a glamorous occupation nor ambition—they work at a greasy spoon, Frankie as a waitress, Johnny as a short-order cook. Both are heavy with emotional baggage. Not sexy, lurid baggage, but run-of-the-mill, pathetic baggage—domestic abuse, divorce, and alcoholism. Yet, the couple discover, repudiate, and battle for a deep, life-or-death level of love. McNally’s thesis is that this sort of passion is not the exclusive privilege of movie star queens and high school quarterbacks. It can even bloom in a cheap apartment in a dingy New York neighborhood. Hubris Productions’ production, directed by Jacob Christopher Green, captures the essence of McNally’s quirky, utterly ordinary love story.

Window.FandJ copySMFrankie and Johnny has one set, two actors, and two acts. It takes place over one long, emotion-fueled night. Johnny (Dennis Frymire) is a lover of Shakespeare, and is convinced that he and Frankie (Patricia Savieo) are meant for each other. She’s not as sure. In fact, she hasn’t ruled out the possibility that Johnny is a lunatic. And she may be right. His overwhelming love of romance is unique, to say the least.

Frymire and Savieo, both Hubris ensemble members, seem completely comfortable with the material, even the extended nudity which starts the show with a bang (literally). The characters come naturally to the duo, whether they’re making love or post-coital meatloaf sandwiches. Most importantly, neither falls into melodrama nor overplays Frankie and Johnny’s quiet desperation.

Savieo is definitely the most fascinating to watch of the two. She lights up the stage. We see that her heart has been stomped on before, so she proceeds with caution and, occasionally, cynicism. Her slow warming-up to Johnny is what drives most of the action, and Savieo handles that arc with grace and strength. The powerful need to keep her heart guarded is evident.

Frymire, on the other hand, can be one-note at times. He gets across Johnny’s enthusiasm, but sometimes at the expense of his charm. He pushes the crazy too hard, an easy crevasse to fall into. He is obviously having fun up there, but it makes him come off as a creep more than he should. The audience starts to wonder why Frankie doesn’t get the police on the line. By the second act, however, he regains some composure and we eat up the delightful finale, which doesn’t feel forced at all.

McNally comes from a school of ‘80s playwrights, an academy that includes John Patrick Shanley and Lanford Wilson, which loves gritty, dynamic love stories. If we want to talk superficial genre specifics we would classify Frankie and Johnny as a comedy. But the play isn’t afraid to dwell on ruinous relationships or drop a bag of f-bombs. Green’s biggest problem is finding the humor. There are some mild chuckles here and there, but the comedy never truly pops in Hubris’ production. The probable cause is that Green’s pacing isn’t as tight as it should be. The actors’ energy falls through the cracks. Frymire, when trying to be weird in ill-fated attempts at laughs, is a good example. Fortunately, McNally’s text is also dramatically complex, so the production stays together.

Frankie and Johnny is about finding magic in a very un-fairy tale world. Green, Frymire, and Savieo all find it, and they present it to us on a platter. The last few moments, which feature Johnny and Frankie watching the sun rise on another day in the city, are pure joy. Out of incredibly everyday people and emotions, Hubris is able to whip up romance.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Review: Hubris Production’s “Bent”

Hubris’ Revival a Limited, but Still Devastating, Success

Hubris Productions presents

Bent
by Martin Sherman
directed by Jacob Christopher Green

Review by Paige Listerud

To appreciate Martin Sherman’s Bent, one has to acknowledge the times in which it was created. When Sherman finished it in 1970, he was addressing neglected history about the Holocaust–the persecution of gay men and lesbians, along with other marginalized groups, like the Roma and the disabled, were hardly mentioned and Bent2practically forgotten. But he was also answering to the urgency of the budding Gay Liberation Movement, sparked by the Stonewall riots that had taken place just a year before. Bent is not simply about remembrance but also about reclaiming the gay male body in the face of absolute hostility—an attempt that was facilitated by the somewhat earlier explosion of the 60’s Sexual Revolution. These two basic dramatic intentions may still have fit fairly easily in 1979, when the play hit Broadway and received nominations for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

Unfortunately, at the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, Bent is showing its age. It has a singular, radical, and revolutionary focus. It lacks in-depth examination of the interconnectedness of oppressions that would make ripe material for any exploration of the Holocaust today. The men with the pink triangle may have been the lowest of the low in Nazi concentration camps, particularly when they were persecuted by fellow inmates, yet the bare suggestion that life was so much better for Jews is a component of Sherman’s radical shortsightedness–certainly not an anomaly in leftist thinking in the late 60’s, but rather irksome and disturbing to witness now.

“I wanted to do this because I had led workshops with LGBT youth at the Center on Halsted,” said director Jacob Christopher Green. “There were so many of them that didn’t know about the pink triangle. We thought the play was particularly relevant today because of similar economic conditions between the Weimar era and this. And the advances that had been made by Germany’s own homosexual movement by Magnus Hirschfeld and the Institute for Sexual Science. That was all swept away by the Third Reich.” Bent1

So while not at all denying the urgent need for remembrance, it may be time to encourage and develop more fully fleshed-out works that expose the dire straits of queer people under Nazi terror.

Without altering the script, these issues couldn’t be resolved with the very best of casts. Problematic to Hubris Productions’ presentation is an uneven cast. The first act comes across as musty community theater–the few bright moments being Travis Walker’s drag performance as nightclub owner, Greta, and the tender scene between Max (Christopher Kauffman) and Rudy (Michael Shepherd) while they are on the lamb. The set (designed by John Whittington), while irritatingly monochromatic, is designed to give the production many levels to play with, which makes the 2-dimensional direction of most of the action in 1st Act a conundrum.

The second act improves profoundly with the concentration of action on Max and his newfound ally, friend, and lover Horst (Jason Ober). That Kaufman and Ober are able to create a realistic and deeply moving relationship out of BENT_webdialogue that is sometimes stilted is a testimony to their craft and Green’s ability to create a truly intimate connection between them on a very bare and unforgiving stage. In their transgressive celebration of their sexuality and growing vulnerability, their increasing love for one another creeps up on them and on us.

By the time Horst is ruthlessly executed in front of Max, we are swept up in Max’s anguished acknowledgement that he has truly loved. He has loved men. And he has loved without the dulling distractions of alcohol and cocaine that were part of his old decadent life in Berlin. The finale is heartbreaking and devastating. This is the revolution we have needed all evening long.

Rating: ««½

Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
When: Thru August 15, 2009
Tickets: $25 Adults, $20 Student/Seniors, Box Office: 773-404-7336
Tickets Online: https://www.tix.com

Cast: Christopher Kauffman, Michael Shepherd, Andrew Skenk, Gregory L. Payne, Travis Walker, Timothy McGuire, Jason Ober

Artistic/Technical Team: Jacob Christopher Green (Director and costumes), John Whittington (set designer), Richard Ebeling (lighting designer), Jason Dabrowski (sound design), CJ Leavens (Props), Nathan Petts (fight choreographer), Patricia Savieo (dramaturge), Lexi Staples (flag art), Tina Frey (stage manager), John Kamys (video creator/director)

Note: A portion of the proceeds from this show will benefit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org

There will be a Talkback Series with the director and actors immediately following the show on Sundays, July 12, 26 and August 9. They will last approximately 30 minutes.

More info: http://www.hubrisproductions.com