Sunday, September 27, 2015

Powerful Revival of DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by John Patrick Shanley

Susan Mitchell and John Talerico in DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  Photo by Peter Welch.
When John Patrick Shanley finally won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005 (for Doubt), he was long overdue.   His exceptional talent as a playwright was evident long before that – as early as 1984, in fact, when his second play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, was first presented at Circle in the Square, starring John Turturro as Danny and June Stein as Roberta.  Danny and the Deep Blue Sea was revived a decade later at Stage 22, directed by Lissa Moira and featuring Susan Mitchell as Roberta.  Now, 20 years after that, the play is being revived again, this time at Theater for the New City on First Avenue in lower Manhattan.  It is again being directed by Lissa Moira and stars Susan Mitchell as Roberta (but this time John Talerico time plays the role of Danny).

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is subtitled An Apache Dance and, in directing this dynamic two-hander, Ms Moira has certainly taken that subtitle to heart: the play is as much choreographed as directed, with Danny and Roberta playing off one another with the smoldering emotion generally evoked by tango and apache dances.  Both Danny and Roberta are deeply damaged, needy, lonely individuals: she is a single mother who has virtually delegated the raising of her troubled son to her own dysfunctional parents; unemployed and an occasional drug user, she was sexually abused by her father but blames herself for that and cannot rid herself of her Catholic guilt; and, in turns, sexually insecure, promiscuous, submissive, masochistic and violently aggressive, she is, in short, a psychological mess.   He is a violent paranoid (nicknamed “The Beast” by his co-workers) whose immediate reaction to any perceived slight is to use his fists and who may have killed a man in a fight the previous night; he is also a possibly repressed homosexual who has fantasized about being the bride in a wedding and who is still living with his mother.

When Danny and Roberta meet in a local bar, it doesn’t appear to be a match made in Heaven (Hell might be a more likely locale) but there clearly is something between them: she is the first person he can talk to without her automatically making him angry and he is the only person she has ever found to whom she feels she can confide her innermost secret.  Unsurprisingly, they return from the bar to her room where sex is inevitable and an even deeper relationship might ensue – if they don’t kill each other first.

Both Ms Mitchell and Mr.Talerico are terrific in their respective roles.  The chemistry between them is palpable and they play it for all its worth.  In sum, this is a powerful play and this production is first-rate.

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