Seen on Broadway:

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune

is the first, and probably only, sex comedy about grace. It begins where most sex comedies end, with the lovers in bed, then follows their pursuit of intimacy, which, for playwright Terrence McNally is the closest we mortals can come to heaven on earth. It’s a dicey affair, at best: Johnny is charming but also manic and needy, with a past full of trouble; Frankie has been betrayed once too often and is devastatingly clear-eyed about her chances for happiness. Given the play’s two-act structure and McNally’s romantic nature, you shouldn’t be surprised at how things turn out. This is not the author’s most distinctive work—some of its jokes sound like they came from one of the better TV sitcoms--and, at two and a half hours, it’s a tad long. But it’s an irresistible vehicle for the right actors (Kathy Bates’s Frankie, in the 1987 production is fondly remembered), and the current Broadway revival is ideally cast. Under the meticulous direction of Joe Mantello, Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci capture every trace of humor and sadness in this complex, contradictory pair.

Photo: Joan Marcus 2002

The production’s design is a real plus factor, as well. John Lee Beatty’s rendering of a cramped West Side studio, surrounded by high-rises, is a marvel of seedy detail. Beatty is often typed as a creator of House Beautiful interiors or romantic Americana. This design, with its peeling paint, cheap plywood walls, beaten-up appliances, and piles of clutter, reveals another side of his talent. Brian MacDevitt’s beautifully wrought lighting moves from a shadowy, sensual opening to harsh overhead lighting (check out the fluorescent ceiling units in Frankie’s kitchen) to a romantic Manhattan sunrise. Scott Lehrer’s sound keeps music pouring out of Frankie’s radio. The functional costumes are by Laura Bauer. Thanks to its fine stars and production, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune casts a powerful romantic mood; by the end, McNally has convinced you that to be in love is to own the world.--David Barbour

Seen Off Broadway: Ricky Jay on the Stem brings back the raconteur, cardsharp, and character actor to spend a couple of hours fleecing the audience. He engages two patrons in the most crooked poker game ever seen. He (literally) sells the Brooklyn Bridge to another unsuspecting sucker. For his pièce de resistance, he solves a mind-numbing chess problem while simultaneously reciting Shakespeare, shouting the blues, and calculating the cube roots of six-figure numbers. All this and an orange tree that blossoms mysteriously on cue, a flea-circus rendition of the Ben-Hur chariot race, and flavorful stories about a lost New York and its rogues, pickpockets, cheats, burlesque halls, freak shows, and Yiddish Hamlets.

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

This is one the richest entertainments in town: both a properly astonishing magic show,and a witty evocation of Times Square’s rakish past. Peter S. Larkin’s equally witty setting is a painted tribute to the red velvet curtains of yore, with a delightful scrolling panorama of old New York. Other credits include lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, and costumes by Juliet Polcsa. Ricky Jay on the Stem has just been held over at Second Stage Theatre until the end of September. It’s definitely worth a visit—but hold on to your watch and wallet.--DB

Seen on the Screen: Or should that be "scream?" Several months ago, when ED/LD senior editor John Calhoun invited me to the screening of 24 Hour Party People, I was delighted. I hoped that this British film, directed by Michael Winterbottom, would explore the "Madchester"/Manchester scene and have a kick-ass soundtrack. (After all, how could you go wrong? Manchester produced Joy Division/New Order, Happy Mondays, Morrissey and the Smiths, and an early 80s club scene to rival 70s New York).

My delight was short-lived. The movie starts out promisingly enough--protagonist Tony Wilson, his wife, and 30 other "Mancs" flop and pogo around in the town hall to the Sex Pistols, circa 1975--but it quickly devolves into a loud, jumpy, wink-wink/nudge-nudge pseudo po-mo biopic of Wilson, head of Factory records and doomed club operator. There wasn't enough music--virtually NO Smiths or Morrissey, for the simple reason that they didn't record for Factory Records. And just like in real life, when Ian Curtis of Joy Division offs himself, the music gets a lot less interesting. DP Robby Müller did excellent work (the film is shot entirely in DV), getting the gritty scope and feel of industrial England, and costume designers Natalie Ward andStephen Noble very successfully capture the fashions of 1975 through 92. More than a few of the outfits were wince-inducing, but in the best possible "I used to own that!" way. Production designer Mark Tildesley recreated the Haçienda, Wilson's red-hot club, to perfection; supposedly the real Wilson was reduced to tears when he saw it.

I was reduced to tears by the thuggish laddishness of the Factory boys, who seemed to end every bar crawl and business meeting with somebody lunging over the table with a broken beer bottle, and by the inside-joke cameos (which they very helpfully point out to you at the end of the movie. Heelarious!). And the movies that 24 Hour Party People tries (and fails) to emulate is long. But there are some hilarious bits, primarily provided by Steve Coogan as Wilson. As for the music, I found it much more satisfying to go home and fire up the turntable for a return to the Manc sound.--Liz French

Heard From San Francisco: Auerbach + Associates is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and as usual this theatre consulting firm has a full plate. Current projects include performing arts centers at U.C. Davis (in conjunction with Boora Architects) and at Denver University (with architects Anderson, Mason, Dale). Other projects range from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles to Cirque du Soleil's new venue at New York, New York in Las Vegas, as well as a new hall for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, in collaboration with architect Santiago Calatrava and Kirkegaard Associates acousticians. "We have been working on this project for several years with Larry Kirkegaard, and they just appointed the architect," says Len Auerbach, principal of the firm, who is also working on the final phase of renovations at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. Kudos on such an exciting anniversary year!--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Heard From LD Chris Parry: In addition to his usual teaching schedule at U.C. San Diego, Tony-Award winning LD Chris Parry is busy at work designing the lighting for such productions as Fuddy Meers at ACT in Seattle for September, Major Barbara for South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa, CA for October, Suddenly Last Summer for Berkley Rep next February, and Alan Bennett's Talking Heads in NYC in the early spring. How does he have time for the classroom?--ELG