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A CurtainUp Review
Death of Frank
By Elyse Sommer
The Death of Frank is one of those narrator driven plays that's designed to make the audience members feel like friends listening to confidences shared across a kitchen table. And what confidences they are!
With flashbacks from the present to the past, Peter (Steven Memran) tells us how his incestuous relationship with his sister Natalie (Natalie Browne) developed. (Not surprisingly, mom and dad for whom they used to put on plays like "The Tree and Syrup Dance" had something to do with this emotionally explosive situation). Peter and Natalie, in their twenties, share an apartment in an unnamed city. She is a yoga teacher with unfulfilled ambitions to be an architect. He is a perennial underachiever who tends their garden with a hoe that is the first of two smoking guns signaling violence in the offing. His sexuality, like his life, is in flux and "shifts like a beach front."
As in the musical Ragtime, the narration is not limited to a single character. It is interspersed with scenes in which the audience is asked to switch from kitchen table confidante to spectator, as the narrators become players instead of confidantes. Thus we meet the two other players in this psychosexual melodrama, both of whom contribute to the play's complications even as they provide some of its more amusing moments.
The first of these is Frank (Peter Lewis). He is sixteen years older than Natalie, a tough macho "always on top" guy with vaguely threatening connections to the construction industry. For Natalie he turns out to be her one and only or as she puts it "You'll always be the one for me -- I'm the diamond, and you're the rough." For Frank it's love too, "quick as it takes to change a light or explain religion".
The other character to help us unravel Peter and Natalie's story is Lynn (Amy Resnick) a smooth talking linguist who knows more than a thing or two about parlaying her skills into popular public lectures. At one such lecture, she flashes cue cards that include one marked COMMUNI-FUK-ATION and befriends Peter. She also becomes the key narrator who rings down the intermission and final curtains.
Despite my mention of two smoking guns, The Death of Frank is not really a murder mystery and its title precludes any surprises about what happens to Frank. The mystery stems from why, how and when. That's why I won't say any more about those "guns" except that there are explosions (of laughter as well as via those weapons). I also won't be giving anything away when I tell you not to expect a neat sum-up ending.
Under Lucie Tiberghien's sensitive direction the switch between narration and action and tragedy and comedy works well and seemingly without effort. Valda Lake's spare set, Michael P. Jones' lighting, Lucie Tiberghien's sound design and Virginia Levy's costumes all contribute towards engaging your interest and attention. The two main players do well by their parts but the standouts are Amy Resnick as the likeable and amusing linguist and Peter Lewis who plays Frank with just the right mix of wry humor and gangster macho.
With all these positives to draw you downtown, (including a comfortable and attractive theater in back of a SoHo art gallery), The Death of Frank is hardly the play that, to quote from the press release, "takes playwriting to the level where it needs to be." It's worth seeing but it's likely to leave you less than completely satisfied that you've spent two hours with characters you'll long remember, a theme that makes a powerful impact, or language that rises above wannabe lyricism.