Audra McDonald, the six-time Tony winning actress, will return to Broadway this spring opposite Michael Shannon in a revival of Terrence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.”
The play, a two-hander, is about a pair of co-workers trying to figure out how they wish to relate to each other after a satisfying sexual encounter. It was staged Off Broadway in 1987 with Kathy Bates opposite F. Murray Abraham and then Kenneth Welsh; was adapted for a film in 1991 with Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino; and then was staged on Broadway in 2002 with Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci.
“I’m very excited, and scared to death,” Ms. McDonald said in a telephone interview Wednesday from the set of “The Good Fight,” her current television series. Ms. McDonald said she had never seen the play live, but had watched the productions featuring Ms. Bates and Ms. Falco on video at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
“This is a beautiful play, and after having done a big splashy musical — while pregnant — I was looking for variety,” Ms. McDonald said. “I want to continue to evolve as an artist, and something in me was craving a play, so I just listened to that inner voice.”
Ms. McDonald has collaborated with Mr. McNally several times previously — she won Tony Awards for “Master Class,” a play he wrote, and “Ragtime,” a musical for which he wrote the book; did a reading of “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” another musical for which he wrote the book, and appeared in “Every Act of Life,” a documentary about his work. The “Frankie and Johnny” revival is pegged to Mr. McNally’s 80th birthday, and Ms. McDonald said she saw it as a tribute to a man she called “one of our great American playwrights.”
Mr. McNally said in an interview that the play would be staged as a period piece (“we’re going to have to find a VCR”) but that, even though it originally opened at the height of the AIDS crisis and was viewed as a comment on the effect of that condition on intimacy, it continues to feel relevant. “I’m very proud of this one, and think it has stood the test of time,” he said. “It still seems to be about the ferocious need we have to connect, and how hard it can be, and how we can go through our lives never hitting the bull’s-eye.”
He noted this production will be the first to involve an intimacy director — a recent innovation in the theater world introduced to protect actors in dramas involving nudity or simulated sex. The previous Broadway production of “Frankie and Johnny” was noted for its nudity; Mr. McNally said the amount of nudity in the revival is still to be determined. “That’s for the director and the actors to negotiate,” he said. “But no one is going to come see this show because of the nudity. The ‘Oh! Calcutta!’ days are over.”
Ms. McDonald agreed.
“I want to do what is right for the characters, and they are in a very raw, vulnerable state,” she said. “I don’t think anything needs to be gratuitous, but I’m open to whatever needs to be. It will only be what’s necessary to serve the play.”
The new production, directed by Arin Arbus in her Broadway debut, will begin performances in May, making it a part of the 2019-20 Broadway season. The producers are Hunter Arnold, Debbie Bisno and Tom Kirdahy; Mr. Kirdahy is Mr. McNally’s husband, and suggested Ms. McDonald consider the role. The producers said the play would be presented at a Shubert theater, but did not say which one; they said the run would be limited to 16 weeks.
Ms. McDonald last appeared on Broadway in the 2016 production of “Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed.” Mr. Shannon, a two-time Oscar nominee, is a stage veteran who has appeared on Broadway twice, in “Grace” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”