Like a rough draft for a “good parts” version of Moonstruck, John
Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea tells us that True Love is
possible, even for the less than perfect people among us. Well, in this
production at Theater for the New City, maybe yes, maybe no.
The two characters in this play, Roberta and the eponymous Danny,
are very, very unattractive people -- not physically, but the characters’
characters are pretty loathsome. And the tale itself is as trite as it comes,
although with a twist: boy-meets-girl, boy-nearly-chokes-girl-to-death,
This presents the cast and creative team with a dilemma: John
Patrick Shanley has written a sincere, would-be sweet, flawed, fundamentally
naïve play about awful people. How can we make it work?
The setup is simple: The Bar From Hell, an edgy woman of a certain
age with the twitches of a meth addict and a neon sign over her head that says,
“I HAVE ISSUES,” and a palooka whose co-workers have nicknamed him The Beast,
and who’s not quite sure if he did, or didn’t, beat someone to death the night
before. They meet not-so-cute, they behave badly and speak harshly, they
acknowledge flaws and sexual attraction, and end up, unsurprisingly, in bed.
Susan Mitchell and John Talerico
photos by Peter Welch
Where, of course, The Magic Happens, though not necessarily in the
way we’re told magic is supposed to happen in bed. Souls seem to have been
bared, as well as bodies. Danny and Roberta offer each other sweet speech and
Troooo Luv. They accept each other, then reject, then accept again, with a
pinch of confession, a dose of forgiveness and a soupcon of smacking around.
However unlikely it may seem for such an accomplished writer,
Shanley seems to have forgotten that there must be a reason for Danny and
Roberta to interact. A reason for him to ask her for a pretzel, a reason for
Roberta to start telling him disturbing details of her life, a reason for him
to confess to maybe having killed someone.
If they were visibly hot for each other from the start, that would
have been reason enough. Perhaps the audience could believe that Roberta and
Danny have some kind of chance at building a future together. But. Absent
overwhelming sexual chemistry between them, the play gives no reason for either
of them not to run screaming from the dive where they’re having a beer, but
instead to move toward each other in the “Apache Dance” of the subtitle,
complete with accompanying struggles, punches, slaps. They have the violent
discussion of the traditional Danse Apache, but why?
Nor do the actors create reasons, nor fill in the missing
motivations. Each of them turns in a competent performance, but no more than
that. John Talerico’s Danny starts rough, and his acting technique frays around
the edges; it’s as if Talerico’s thinking about what to do next. When he stops
capital-A Acting, and simply becomes Danny, he’s wonderfully appealing, for a
psycho rage-a-holic brawler. Susan Mitchell’s Roberta, with her tics and
twitches and crouches and very much embodied performance, never reaches the
core of the pathos of Roberta’s sad, damaged life. She tells us; she doesn’t
So, back to the question: how does everyone involved in the play
make it work? How do director/cast/designers make us care about Danny and
Roberta, and the deep blue sea of her dream?
Well, in this production, they don’t. Alas.
The play itself has some construction issues that the actors
themselves don’t rise above. Credibility problems, uncertain motivation,
barely-believable emotional interactions, combined with some uncertain lighting
moments, awkward blocking, and the occasional missed cue: none of these errors
made things any better.
As Susan Mitchell’s voice sinks slowly into the floor – the poor
woman was so hoarse by the end of the play, she needed to be force-fed tea with
honey and lemon – it seemed for a while that she’d use this real vulnerability
to make Roberta more appealing. Instead, more illusions: the wedding plans. Oh
for pete’s sake, enough already.
Not a sincere, truthful word has been said throughout Danny and
the Deep Blue Sea. Even confession sounds false, as does love-talk. Danny’s
plea for a future together comes closest to truth, but it turns out delusional
and self-deceiving as midnight lies so often are.
So why should we hope they find love and forgiveness, rather than
strangle one another? Shanley set up conflict, conflict, conflict, within the
characters and between them. If the actors had dazzled each other with real
chemistry, there might have been a reason for audience to accept the
resolution. But this felt more like a drama school exercise than an off-off
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley
September 24-October 11, 2015,
Theater for the New City,
155 First Avenue, (bet. 9th and 10th
Street), New York, NY 10003.
Tickets are $18; visit smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444
Direct ticketing link: http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?showcode=dan854
For more information, visit: http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net