In this era of casual sex where people seek comfort in anonymous hookups, you might sleep with someone before you know his or her last name. But who falls deeply in love immediately after a first tryst? “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” playing through April 19 at Williamston Theatre, explores that possibility. It’s one of those stories that many American couples have experienced firsthand, when you discover that a person’s life is in your hands after the briefest of flings and you aren’t sure what might happen next.
Frankie and Johnny work at a greasy spoon diner. She’s a waitress, he works in the kitchen, but it’s not just the specials he’s dishing up: He’s got the hots for Frankie, who finally gives in to his sweet talk and agrees to a one-night stand.
But is Frankie (Suzi Regan) really as cynical and guarded as she comes across? She’s been around the block, but after hearing his platitudes and promises, why does she give in? Scars and a fear of rejection, mistrust and paranoia can set in quickly when one has been there, done that, too many times. And is Johnny (John Lepard) as good as it will get for Frankie or too good to be true? Is he as idealistic and passionate as he seems or freakily intense, maybe even creepy?
This finely tuned script, accompanied by two actors at the top of their craft, makes something entirely new of the true love experience, bringing vulnerability and tears to the forefront. Take yet another emotional risk late in midlife? Put your heart on the line? These characters do that and more.
Lepard dazzles with the soaring highs and scatological lows of Johnny’s wordplay that only a short-order cook, self-educated in prison, might bring to a conversation. He never stops talking and is a squirming whirling dervish of movement throughout the play. Regan’s Frankie is no slouch with words herself, and hurls out a risky range of anxious emotionality that is at times cutting and cruel, yet mixed with moments of tender mercy and tentative trust.
“Frankie and Johnny” is a hurricane of swirling feelings that stirs up the stink on the doo-doo, reminding us of all those perilous moments in early relationships when a single word, a slight misunderstanding can be a deal breaker. There is in that instant a realization that it takes careful listening and a desire to understand. It is a critical juncture, one where perseverance and commitment become necessary conditions.
“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” Williamston Theatre
Through April 19 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays;
3 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays $20 Thursdays/$25 Friday- Saturday evenings/$22 matinees ($10 students; $2 discount for seniors/military) 122 S. Putnam Road, Williamston (517) 655 7469, williamstontheatre.org