MetroStage continues its exploration of the works of the late multi-Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally with a virtual reading of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.
Directed by Stefan Sittig, the MetroStage production aims to bring a fresh look to the characters of Frankie and Johnny, two people living on the fringe seeking some lasting connections and love. They spend the night together wondering if it is a hookup or something more.
“Readings offer a great opportunity to bring back some of our favorite actors who had appeared on our stage,” said Carolyn Griffin, MetroStage producing artistic director. “I love reminding our audience of our incredible artists from some of our past productions.” Frankie and Johnny features Veronica del Cerro (Frankie) and Michael Kevin Darnall (Johnny), who appeared together in MetroStage’s Savage in Limbo (2011). The virtual reading will have a special appearance by television and radio personality Robert Aubry Davis as the radio announcer.
McNally created “incredibly flawed people, challenged by life’s circumstances, who have such humanity that we care deeply about both,” added Griffin. “The virtual platform strips it down to the basics. We can actually feel what they are experiencing because they are talking to us through that screen as well as to each other.
“I’ve seen many productions [of Frankie and Johnny] that just didn’t capture the excitement that I feel when I read the play.” said Sittig. “I think they may have put too much emphasis on these people being ‘sufferers’ or victims of their financial and social circumstances. It somehow didn’t resonate with me.”
“These are blue collar workers, but they aspire to more — they want to have hope and they are curious and extremely intelligent, even if they haven’t had the opportunities afforded to those in upper classes,” said Sittig. “I don’t see them as victims — I see them as fighters, trying to find some happiness — in this case, eventually, with each other.”
Michael Kevin Darnall brings the character of Johnny ‘alive,’ Sittig continued. “We have to love him, and we have to hope alongside him. His idealistic, romanticized view of the world is something the actor has to sell to us, otherwise he can come off as a bit aggressive.”
I think the fact that he [Darnall] is an actor of mixed race adds another dimension,” said Sittig.
Veronica del Cerro brings another dimension as well. “I think we had a rehearsal or two under our belts when I asked Veronica what her background was. I am half-Latinx myself, and I was raised in South America. A Latinx Frankie was always of interest to me as a director. Turns out Veronica and I both have mothers who are from Uruguay!”
In character as Frankie, del Cerro “is feisty, but in her own way — in a way a Latina would be — she holds her ground and calls Johnny out when needed, but she never gets too rough. She keeps her femininity while holding her ground,” indicated Sittig. “Frankie has a steely tenacity and underlying strength.
“These actors are fantastic and very engaging — which is critical with online work,” Sittig said. “You can’t take your eyes off of them, and they are giving the material its full value — McNally’s words really soar when they are sparking off each other. Their chemistry is palpable, and I think that will translate well in this online format.”
Both Sittig and Griffin also mentioned a unique aspect to rehearsals for Frankie and Johnny: the challenge of coordinating schedules, since del Cerro lives outside of Barcelona, Spain. That made for a six-hour-plus time difference.
Darnall described his character Johnny as having “reached a point in his mid-life where he takes nothing for granted. It is now or never. When something sparks passion in him, he pursues it unceasingly. He is sensitive, self-taught, and curious. If he spots a brass ring, he is going to reach out and grab it on the first try.
“Frankie is the ultimate prize, she is everything Johnny wants and needs, and he is utterly tenacious when it comes to convincing her that they both can stop searching; they can get off the ride and go home,” said Darnall. “Playing Johnny feels a little like flying. The script is so tight, almost breathless, highly emotional.”
For del Cerro, Frankie and Johnny brings forth “moments of light that arise when the two characters share their vulnerabilities — bits of hope we can take into the world.
“Although this is only a reading, it is a challenging opportunity to begin to explore a character that knows violence and aggression so intimately.
“This play is all about connection, and we can’t do that in virtual form. The physical and kinesthetic spheres are taken out of the interplay,” noted del Cerro. “It is frustrating, but also focuses us to explore the text in another way. One can really hear the play in this version.”
Inviting audiences to the virtual reading, Sittig said: “Audiences can expect to be hooked from the beginning on these two characters, and they will go on a journey, with highs and lows, sensuality and humor, and some really nice insights into the human condition, and maybe some answers, or the beginning of answers to some of the questions we all ask ourselves in life: ‘Can somebody truly love me or want me the way I truly am?’ ‘Will I find my soulmate?’ ‘Do I even have one?’”
Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune begins streaming April 21 at 7:30 pm, and will be available online until 7:30 pm April 25, 2021. Admission is free. First register on broadwayondemand.com. To find Frankie and Johnny, search for “metrostage” or click on this link: https://www.broadwayondemand.com/series/7pXhWvt71Bbm-frankie-and-johnny-in-the-clair-de-lune–metrostage?channel=watch-now.
Note: Donations will be accepted as MetroStage has launched a Capital Campaign for its new Alexandria venue currently under construction. Information about the campaign for the new stage for MetroStage is here: metrostage.org/what-we-do.