The play focuses on two lonely, middle-aged people whose first date ends with their tumbling into bed. The two are in her one-room walk-up apartment in the west side of New York City. Johnny, a short order cook, is in good physical condition; but Frankie, a waitress, is frumpy, fat, and emotionally defined by her unattractiveness (the role was created by Kathy Bates). Johnny is certain he has found his soul mate in Frankie. She, on the other hand, is far more cautious and disinclined to jump to conclusions and at first has written off the encounter as a one night stand. As the night unfolds, they slowly begin to reveal themselves to each other as they take tentative steps towards the possible start of a new relationship.
"Johnny calls the radio station to request the most beautiful music ever written... Claude Debussy's "Clair de lune"... floats onto the night air... Johnny, buoyant with love, beckons Frankie to join him at the window and to bask... in the clair de lune. It's a lovely moment..."
The play opened Off-Broadway on June 2, 1987 at Stage II of the Manhattan Theatre Club, where it ran for two weeks. Directed by Paul Benedict, the original cast starred Kathy Bates and F. Murray Abraham. On October 14, 1987 it opened at Stage I for a six-week run. Kenneth Welsh played the part of Johnny in the Stage I production. On December 4, 1987 the play transferred to the Westside Theatre, and closed on March 12, 1989. Kathy Bates was nominated for the 1987-1988 Obie Award, Outstanding Performance.
The play opened on Broadway on July 26, 2002 in previews, officially on August 8, 2002 at the Belasco Theatre. Directed by Joe Mantello, the cast starred Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci. The play closed on March 9, 2003 after 243 performances and 15 previews.Rosie Perez and Joe Pantoliano were replacements as of January 2003.
The performers had an extended period of nudity in the first act.
Frankie and Johnny Are Married is a 2003 comedy film chronicling the troubles a producer has trying to mount a production of the Terrence McNally play.