2020 TRUE WEST AWARD: WILLIAM HAHN AND JESSICA ROBBLEE
By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Psst. Hey, do you remember "plays"? You know ... in the B.C. times (Before COVID)? With packed audiences and winter coats cavalierly spread over your lap by the oblivious person in front of you? Followed by coughing fits that only annoyed, rather than terrified you? Ah, yeah ... the good old days.
But even had more than 500 Colorado theatre productions not been canceled by the COVID shutdown in March, theatregoers surely would still be looking back at the 2020 theatre year and talking fondly about Jessica Robblee and William Hahn's humane performances in the Miners Alley Playhouse's production of "Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune."
Terrence McNally's first-date play has been exploring relationships and romance between these two wary, weary veterans of the heart since 1987. They've already slept together; that's the easy part. Now they face the daunting prospect of true connection. "You just don't decide to fall in love with people out of the blue," says Frankie. But Johnny, a fast-talking short-order cook and diehard romantic, tenaciously disagrees.
This is a play that strikes a universally empathetic nerve among audiences because of the utterly recognizable ordinariness of this random encounter that dares to ask: Is this the rare one-night stand that could stand the test of time?
It's a play that's been played, occasionally spectacularly, by local actors of every size and stripe over the decades. But there was something special about the Miners Alley Playhouse's nakedly honest production, from the intimate confines of the Golden stage that put us within breathing distance of the characters, to Warren Sherrill's sensitive direction, to this pair of accomplished actors at their most tenacious – and vulnerable.
Here's some of what was said about them at the time:
"Jessica Robblee’s Frankie is slight and luminescent. Hahn makes Johnny so passionately and nakedly human, so much his own unique and eccentric self, that you can’t help rooting for him." – Juliet Wittman, Westword
"Under Warren Sherrill’s guidance, these two take it the next level as they maneuver around and with each other on the small, darkened stage. Both actors’ performances are so vulnerable, their characterizations so precise, that we are willing to forgive their characters’ personal shortcomings. Hahn’s portrayal of the offbeat, high-strung Johnny is spot-on. And Robblee’s Frankie is divine. The flashes of vulnerability that slip through under her tough façade give her a warmth and humanity that prevents her from appearing harsh We sympathize with them and understand that their idiosyncrasies stem from loneliness rather than bad intentions." – Lane Ware, OnStage Colorado
"There is a convenience in watching these two work, a reassurance that these are two professionals who are not about to slip or fall. Hahn succeeds in masking the animalistic nature of Johnny with a determination to make Frankie aware of the joy and delicacy of his skewed grasp of reality. And Robblee responds in grounding Frankie firmly to the floor." Denver Theatre Perspectives
Video bonus: Interview with Jessica Robblee
Jessica Robblee holds a B.A. in Theatre and English from Davidson College and an M.A. in Theatre Education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. She performed with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in "Twelfth Night" and "Romeo and Juliet." In September, she performed in the worldwide launch of the play "Waiting for Obama" on Broadway On Demand. Other credits include "The Moors," "Sense and Sensibility," "The Foreigner," "Electric Baby" and "Drowning Girls" (Arvada Center Black Box); "Frankenstein," "All the Way," "Lord of the Butterflies" and "Drag Machine" (Denver Center); "Siren Song," "Duck Duck Dupe" and "Trunks" (Buntport Theater for All Ages); "5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche" (Square Product Theatre); and "This" (Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company).
Video bonus: Interview with William Hahn
William Hahn, a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, is a member of Curious Theatre Company, where his roles have included Ralph in "Frozen," Dorian in "Opus," The Dead Man in "Dead Man’s Cell Phone," Max in "Becky Shaw" and EKO in "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety." Other local roles have included "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "King Lear with the DCPA Theatre Company, "Escanaba In Da Moonlight" and "K2" for the Aurora Fox, and "A Lie of the Mind" for Paragon Theatre. He won the 2006 Denver Post Ovation Award for Outstanding Season by an Actor for “Frozen,” “Insignificance” and Escanaba in Da Moonlight." He can be seen in the feature films "Silent Rose" and "A Test of Wills."
Video interviews by Ray Bailey TV.