In Frankie & Johnny, Michelle Pfeiffer gets the audience's sympathy, and Al Pacino gets their respect, but their laughs go to Nathan Lane. As Pfeiffer's gay next-door neighbor, Lane could bring down a Cineplex with his well-aimed jabs: ''Johnny, I gotta go,'' he deadpans to a persistently phoning Pacino. ''We're expecting another call from you any minute.''
Lane, a 35-year-old Jersey City native, is known for his work in Terrence McNally's stage plays The Lisbon Traviata and Lips Together, Teeth Apart, but he's been honing his sense of humor ever since he made up half of Stack and Lane, a comedy team that opened for country star Eddie Rabbitt in the late '70s. ''We would walk out and see nothing but a sea of cowboy hats,'' recalls Lane, whose wonderfully sad eyes soften his zingers onstage and off. ''How many silo jokes do you know?''
Though this is not his first movie role (he had small parts in Ironweed and He Said, She Said), Lane hopes that Frankie & Johnny will lead to something bigger for him in Hollywood. Meanwhile, he's back in theater, playing Death in George C. Scott's Broadway production of On Borrowed Time. And he says he would like to continue working with McNally despite the fact that last summer the playwright had Lane's Lips Together character undress and shower onstage. ''I think he did it,'' he says, ''because he wanted me to lose weight.''