Tickets: auxdogtheatre.org

Aux Dog Theatre has established their own sweet groove of romantic comedies—though some of them can’t be called straight comedy, like the recent “A Delicate Ship” or “The Way We Get By.” Each spoonful of sugar in these plays is offered with a side of bitter coffee. In “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” the bitterness is the baggage of past failed relationships served up in an intimate setting.

Both parties are at their most vulnerable as the play begins: in the dark, we can hear them achieving orgasm. As the lights go up, they’re both grinning, but that’s the last thing they agree on for a while. Frankie is a waitress who works with Johnny, a short-order cook. She has just rated this encounter a one-night stand. He sees it as the beginning of a wonderful relationship. We laugh but feel the real tension between them.

The entire action takes place in Frankie’s apartment and so the push-pull between Johnny’s expectations and Frankie’s is intensified in such close quarters. Neither one is a spring chicken, and each is lonely. Because we understand what they have in common, we can root for this love affair, yet still feel unsure when it veers on and off the rails. And veer it does, in a clash of Frankie’s apprehensions and Johnny’s quirky earnestness.

The actors drive our emotions and are in control all the way. Mike Long as Johnny plays a low-rent Romeo using every little thing at his disposal—an egg sandwich, a tenderly applied bandaid—to woo and win her. He is inappropriate and boundary pushing and maddening as hell. But when he enlists the help of an unlikely Cupid—a radio DJ who doesn’t even take requests—it’s magical. Long’s portrayal is straightforward, funny, and heartfelt.

Jessica Osbourne as Frankie takes us believably through the character’s changes and forges a real bond with the audience. At first, she makes no room for Johnny, in her apartment as in her life. She rejects his romantic overtures and tries to kick him out. As she subtly and gradually warms to the idea of “us,” the actor uses everything she has—movement, voice, bits of business—to let us know she’s coming around. As often as I see her on stage, I never know how she does it, but Osbourne is impeccable, always.

This is an adult show, with simulated sex, full frontal nudity, and language. The Dog doesn’t pull its punches.

—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes ABQArts.com.