Actor Bill Hahn says theater is always a high wire act. But it becomes an even more difficult one when the show only involves two performers. “It’s a challenge from the standpoint of there are no …
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Actor Bill Hahn says theater is always a high wire act. But it becomes an even more difficult one when the show only involves two performers.
“It’s a challenge from the standpoint of there are no breaks other than intermissions,” Hahn said. “It’s all the two of you.”
But such a challenge is worth undertaking precisely because it requires its performers to develop a sense of trust and connection that can be rewarding not only for the performers but also their audience. Hahn said he thinks audiences will find that to be the case with “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune,” which opens for a five-week run at Golden’s Miners Alley Playhouse on Jan. 24.
The show, which was first performed in 1987, follows two employees of a Manhattan diner whose seeming one-night stand becomes something more as it unfolds.
Warren Sherrill, who is directing the show at Miners Alley Playhouse, said the power and appeal of the show come from the universality of Frankie and Johnny and their feelings for one another.
“Everyone can see themselves in these two characters,” Sherrill said. “They are very real, they are very sad, they are very beautiful and they are also very ugly at times.”
Hahn plays Johnny, whom he describes as something of an oddball with a romantic side who is desperate to love. Jessica Robblee plays Frankie, a waitress who has become guarded and cautious as a result of past traumas yet maintains “a pretty generous heart.”
Over the course of the play, the pair’s connection grows as they learn about one another’s pasts while taking tentative steps toward a possible shared future.
“It’s about hope and in a cynical world not giving up the possibility of loving someone,” said Hahn. “I think that’s really inspiring, especially today. We live in a world now that can be disconnected and isolated at times with computers and phones and everything but this play offers the hope that we can come together and connect no matter how difficult it is and that its worth it.”
But while the show’s themes are as relevant as ever, Sherrill said he and the cast made the choice to keep its setting in 1980s New York rather than translating it to present day.
“To me it is a period piece in the sense that there are no cellphones and it takes place in the heart of NYC in the ’80s when [New York] was a much different place to live than it is now,” he said. “It wasn’t the chichi place to be it was the cheap place to live and sometimes a scary place.”
For Hahn and Robblee, staying true to the original script also meant being willing to perform portions of the play naked. It’s an aspect of the show that Sherrill said performers and audience alike may find uncomfortable at first but one that is ultimately an essential part of the show.
“It’s symbolic to me and to all of us in that there’s nothing else to hide these people from each other,” he said. “This is characters being stripped down and raw.”
The nudity also serves to further heighten the already intensely intimate nature of the play.
“In an intimate space, it’s as intimate as I can ever imagine being on stage without crossing a line,” Hahn said. “If you are going to talk about love and love affairs this play goes there as much as you really can in a live theater setting.”
But like any show with nudity, “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire De Lune” also requires a certain level of maturity and discretion from its audience.
“I think this is a show for people 16 or 17 and up,” said Robblee, who brought up the recent Broadway revival of the show which saw audiences taking photos of the nude performers in what she describes as a “disrespectful” display. ““And I don’t know if I’d love seeing it with my parents. Maybe see it with some friends instead.”
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