It’s Claude Debussy’s spare piano melody—melancholic and optimistic all at once—that always gets me. Hell, even Steven Soderbergh is a sucker for the music. (He used it to underscore the final scene in “Ocean’s Eleven” at the Bellagio fountain.) In “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, ” Terrence McNally’s 1987 romantic obstacle, it’s the music that gives a palpable believability to the tentative love match between Frankie the waitress and Johnny the short-order cook. When Johnny hears the tune for the very first time, wafting from the radio as he basks in a post-coital glow, he declares it the most beautiful piece of music ever written, a line that begs for Frankie to respond with something like “You had me at hello.” She doesn’t, of course, and that’s the crux of the play. In this Steppenwolf revival, under the direction of Austin Pendleton, while the nuances of this push-pull relationship are delivered with solid technique, there’s nothing particularly special about the production. As Johnny, Yasen Peyankov’s performance is best described as smudged—it needs more edges and corners. Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”), normally a resonant, multifaceted actor, plays Frankie’s turn-on-a-dime mood swings as the stuff of cliché: A woman coming unhinged rather than a person who is terribly, terribly wary and unwilling—at first, anyway—to succumb to the promise of real love. Surprisingly, Pendleton has eliminated another integral part of the play: the midnight snack cooked right on stage. Here, that scene is cheated—all the ingredients for an omelette are dumped into an obviously cold skillet—and we never hear the butter sizzling or smell the onions sautéing. Since when has the Steppenwolf taken the easy route on the all-important details? (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.