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Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

Dundee Rep

Love - pardon my French - comes in spurts. The hard part is keeping a tight grip on what you've got. Too tight though, and you're left with nowt but a notch on the bedpost and a bittersweet memory of what might've been. But, hey, that's the sort of romantic guff - however true - that makes playwrights like Terence McNally so darned popular. His plays ditch plot like a cheap date in favour of everybody's favourite piece of tittle tattle - Relationships And How To Do 'Em. Or not, as the case may be.
McNally champions the little guy on the ropes, gets him together with the small-town girl, and lets 'em at it.

This is the basic premise of his 1987 hit romantic comedy, which thrusts together this pair of downbeat lovers - already a legend, if in name only - and hopes for the best. Dundee Rep associate director Michael Duke's production begins in the dark, with the pair abandoned to the last lengthy gasp of the ultimate intimacy. The post-coital joie de vivre doesn't last long, and what follows is like a striptease in reverse, which sees them go hot and cold on each other like the striplights bickering in the city outside, stopping, getting ready, then, when the coast is clear, go-go- going.

Ex-con Johnny is a short-order chef with poetry in his soul, already at ease with his own perceived mythology. He believes in soul mates, coincidence and kindred spirits, while waitress Frankie is more jaded, more used to brief meat-'n'-two-veg affairs than anything appertaining to romance, which is why Johnny is such an in-yer-face shock to the system. Round and round the garden path they go, in search of that ever elusive good time, both knowing they don't make Saturday nights like they used to.

Like the relationship itself, this is a hit-and-miss affair, something that comes as no surprise considering Tom McGovern and Maureen Allan are on stage together throughout the play's full two hours. While physically brave in capturing the full pas de deux of what passes for courtship in dysfunctional and suspicious times, in the first act at least they don't fully give the feeling of baring their souls the way strangers do over the course of one night. Only in the second night do they relax, un-self- consciously bouncing off each other via a truckload of deadpan New York cynicism, only occasionally slipping into stock-in-trade American method- u-like pastiche mode.

For a play alluding so much to music, fine-tuning is probably all it needs and, given a bit of settling in, one of the great theatrical duets should be delivered confidently enough for what's required. Richard Edmunds' design, at once impressionistic and realistic, helps matchmake beautifully, its veils allowing us a sneak peek into just one of the eight million stories that go on in the throbbin' heart of the city. Ah, but it'll never last.

The Independent, January 31st 1997



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