Frankie is a schlubby, middle-aged waitress in a New York diner who no longer believes in love – if she ever did.
Johnny is an ex-con short-order cook, who is a hopeless romantic – emphasis on the hopeless – and a nonstop talker.
In Terrence McNally’s bittersweet romantic comedy, the action begins with the two of them in the midst of a one-night stand.
The dramatic question: Will there be a second night? Or a thousandth night?
Interplayers Professional Theatre opens its 29th season tonight with “Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”
When it premiered in 1987, the New York Times’ Frank Rich said the play had the “timeless structure of romantic comedies,” yet with a new edge in the dawning age of AIDS.
Johnny is a romantic who says he likes to see things in a “shadowy light,” while the sarcastic Frankie says that Johnny’s idea of romance sounds like her idea of “hiding something.”
She’s not exactly swept away by Johnny’s profession of love at first sight. She thinks it’s slightly creepy.
McNally went on to write the Tony-winning books for “Ragtime” and “The Full Monty,” as well as the plays “Master Class” and “Love! Valor! Compassion!”
Despite the often-bittersweet tone of this play, “the evening floats by on bright and funny conversation,” wrote Rich.
Most people know this story from the 1991 movie version, titled simply “Frankie and Johnny.” But that was a prettified version.
Frankie was played by Michelle Pfeiffer, despite the fact that the script described the characters as middle-aged and “not beautiful.” Johnnie was played by Al Pacino.
The original off-Broadway cast had a much more suitable Frankie: Kathy Bates. She won an Obie Award for her performance.
A Broadway revival in 2002 featured Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”) and Stanley Tucci.
The Interplayers version features Karen Kalensky and John Henry Whitaker, a wife-husband team with Hollywood credentials and plenty of Interplayers experience.
Kalensky was Interplayers’ artistic director last year and also appeared in “The Graduate,” “The Dining Room” and “Grace & Glorie,” among other shows. Whitaker played the professor in Interplayers’ “Oleanna.”
The new artistic director, Reed McColm, said they are “explosive together.” He also said that audiences should be prepared for a show with mature themes.
“It’s a pleasure to present a show so frank about sex and love, and how they are not the same thing,” said McColm.
The play’s director is Jonn Jorgensen, who is coming off a tour de force performance in “Waiting for Godot” last season at Interplayers.
About that title? Yes, “Frankie & Johnny” is a reference to the folk song of the same name, but don’t expect the same tragic ending.
“Clair de Lune” is a reference to the Debussy music, some of which is heard in the background, along with Bach and “The Sound of Music.”