Sunday 29th June
I’ve said this before, but I will say it again. I hold drinkthehalo personally responsible for transforming my Punchdrunk appreciation into a full-blown addiction. I met her one afternoon in August and she gave me two pieces of advice. Check out Conor Doyle’s Frankie. Hang out with Rob McNeill’s Doctor. She might as well have told me to dive down the rabbithole head first without a parachute.
I’ve written about Conor Doyle’s Frankie twice before. But over almost an entire year of visiting Temple Studios I only looped the character three times; twice with Conor Doyle and once with Daniel Whiley. Frankie’s loop was traumatic, nasty and involved following a needy attention-junkie whose hunger for fame meant he allowed himself to be coerced, abused, degraded and humiliated. Watching Daniel Whiley felt exploitative. He was so young and green, every inch the wide-eyed. naive starlet. Conor Doyle’s interpretation was much more complicated and that’s what made it both powerful and difficult.
Still, there was something dear and charming about him, especially when he plucked me from the front of the stage one night in March and we danced side-by-side like two kids, shrugging our shoulders in unison, sniggering and smiling into Studio 3.
Doyle’s Frankie always struck me as a child starlet who’s heyday happened when he was still in middle-school. Adore Loomis, all grown-up. Makes you wonder if Homer Simpson actually did everyone a favour in The Day of the Locust.
There was a jaded, coke-addled edge to Doyle’s portrayal. The violent mood swings, the shrieking cackle, the overwhelming gratitude at being given a break by the Studios, plus the irrefutable fact that Conor Doyle is clearly a member of the 30+ club. There was something pathetic and distasteful about his ambition; the fact he’d do basically anything to be a star. It was miserable too, oppressive even - his Frankie moved through the Studios demanding extra oxygen for both his ego and his self-loathing.
But he was magnetic. Funny, weird and kind of naughty, he still possessed a childlike vulnerability precisely because he was so weak. Plus Conor Doyle has the charisma of a born star that made his Frankie completely compelling. On that last Sunday I stood inside the Seamstress’s shop, hands sticky with fake blood from a cinema handshake, breath catching in the back of my throat as his eyes bored into mine whispering Jeepers Creepers.
I won’t go into every detail of that last Frankie loop. I’ve written about it before, and besides, others have written about it far better (thank you drinkthehalo and whenwillweawake. But I want to remember two specific snapshots from those final shows, although truth be told, I know I’ll never forget them, with or without a recap.
I hate it when people use the word iconic - it’s a big word and rarely do the people or events they describe deserve it. But there are two dazzling moments in The Drowned Man that I think can carry the weight of that term.
I was in the basement, having run down the stairs following Claude and Frankie’s violent and seductive duet in Studio 5 (so wrong/so right). My intention had been to try and get a good spot for the private party, as I didn’t have many more opportunities to see it. But as I was heading down one of the corridors, I realised that this might also be my last chance to see something truly spectacular. I cut through the basement and stood in the narrow concrete corridor just outside Stanford’s little red anteroom. At the far end a door opened, a tall, lean figure framed in the doorway. There was that harsh clash of two electric guitar chords bleeding into one another, and in perfect time with the music, Frankie pressed his outstretched arms against the cold concrete and elevated his body off the floor. I’d only ever seen this standing behind him, watching as the muscles on the backs of his arms strained with the effort of crucifying himself to the sound of The Pink Room. That afternoon I faced him as he swayed between the walls, head bent down, staring out at me from beneath his brows, a cluster of white masks peering at me from the gloom. What a swell party.
I hated leaving Frankie in the Seamstress’s shop, perhaps one of the cruellest, most voyeuristic endings to any of the loops. So instead I decided to say my goodbyes backstage at Studio 5.
Alice Estee has just cast him in the role of Bobby, and they’re about to shoot Leader of the Pack. Frankie sits at the dressing table, lip-synching to The Floridians’s I Love Marie.
There was a time, when the stars would never ever shine, but now that you are mine, oh mine, the stars will always shiiiinnee!
He’s pumped up with the promise of super stardom, stripped to the waist, swigging liquor straight from the bottle, donning a pair of classic black sunglasses as he revels in his grade A awesomeness. He performs for himself in the mirror, like a teenager pretending at fame, adoring the image he’s created for himself. I stand behind him, watching his comic, exuberant reflection, giggling at his narcissism and totally loving it. When he stands behind the bedroom set, leaning up against the back wall posing in his shades, I’m grinning from ear to ear. He’s such an idiot. Such an endearing, sweet, messed-up idiot.
It’s a fantasy of course; the studios will betray him and Dwayne will be cast as the leading man. But just for those few minutes, Frankie feels like he has made it. And for that reason I watched this scene on Sunday, twice on Tuesday, and again at my final show. The last time I’m crying as much as I’m smiling.
I’m sure you knew that I would love this post, but I’ll say it anyway - I ADORE THIS. I dreamed about Frankie last night, I think because I read this yesterday. It’s so wonderful to hear your thoughtful, nuanced perspective on my favorite character. And what does it say about me that all those dark, disturbing layers that kept you away are the same reasons I followed him so very many times…?
I never thought to see that hallway moment as “The Pink Room” begins from the front - I had a moment when reading this of, “oh, next time I will go around to that side” … before I remembered there is no more next time. :(
(Also, the afternoon in August when we met - it was almost a year ago! Somehow it seems like last week, and like we’ve been friends forever…)