Shanan Custer and Charles Hubbell bring out the best in Frankie and Johnny

Charles Hubbell and Shanan Custer

Charles Hubbell and Shanan Custer

References to VCRs may be quaint, and the thought of pre-gentrified Hell's Kitchen as a slum just doesn't compute with the modern New York City, but Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune's tale of two lonely people finding comfort, and maybe even love, is timeless.

The appropriately named Casting Spells Productions gives us a pair of actors who are exquisite in their roles. Shanan Custer and Charles Hubbell slip perfectly into the performance, bringing every desperate moment to the Minneapolis Theatre Garage stage.

We arrive on the scene at a climax. Frankie and Johnny are in bed, reaching the end of their lovemaking. This is also the end of a halting first date for the restaurant coworkers.

Frankie is a high school dropout whose acting dreams drifted into a lifetime of slinging hash. Johnny is a philosopher/short-order cook with a motor mouth and a mysterious past. They're both in their 40s and sense they're coming to the end of their hopes for a long-term relationship.

Johnny is ready to go all in. He sees this new love as fate. But he struggles to focus on one thought for more than a few moments, so his conversation pingpongs from Shakespeare to the two-year stint he did in the joint and back to his sudden undying love for Frankie.

This creeps Frankie out. She stresses that he isn't staying the night, and even gets ready to leave her own apartment to get away. Frankie is a cautious soul who hides her pain deep inside. She also feels that she has little to show for her years except a ratty apartment and a collection of waitress uniforms.

The play could have easily devolved into an insufferable mope-a-thon, but Custer and Hubbell make Frankie and Johnny so real that you are willing to hang on every twist and turn. Custer is one of the most talented comic actors in town, and she plays the humor like a violin.

Hubbell doesn't soft-pedal Johnny's quirks or annoying habits. Instead, he uses them to make Johnny seem like that friend you love to hang out with, but who always leaves you feeling exhausted.

The matter-of-fact performances match Jane Ryan's set design, which immerses us in Frankie's grungy studio apartment.

These lovely moments bind us to the characters. We've all had conversations that went down unexpected paths. Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune thrives with its all-too-real middle-aged duo because we know that — despite their mythical names — they are as real as the hardening eggs in the fryer.


Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Through Dec. 6; 800-838-3006