You know how the old song goes: “Frankie and Johnny were lovers,” or in some versions, “Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts.” In Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the “lovers” part may apply to the two characters, at least in the physical sense, but “sweethearts”? That’s open to discussion. McNally’s play is all about defining one’s personality inside a new relationship even as the characters — yes, their names are Frankie and Johnny — seek to identify each other’s character. The play, which opens at Santa Fe Playhouse on Friday, May 30, begins in the dark, with the two (Mona Malec and Rod Harrison) finishing their first act of lovemaking. What follows, in McNally’s sharp, revealing style of shared dialogue, is the couple sizing up what that act may or may not lead to. As they express their desires — Johnny’s desire to establish a relationship, Frankie’s desire for Johnny to leave so she can be alone — they reveal themselves to each other, the audience, and themselves.
The play is all about intimacy and vulnerability, said Vanessa Rios y Valles, director of the Santa Fe Playhouse production. “To be truly intimate with someone, you have to be vulnerable. Everybody says they want to be in an intimate relationship, but they don’t want to take off the armor. That idea is very important to the play.” When the piece premiered at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1987, New York Times reviewer Frank Rich called it “the most serious play yet about intimacy in the age of AIDS.” The play has since transcended those confused and even panicked times. The brief mentions of disease seem part of standard operating procedure now (the play was written in 1982). But the intimacy issues are timeless.
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