Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

 

 

Lisa Fernandez, Brian Patrick Murphy

 

 

by JK Clarke

 

A new production of John Patrick Shanley’s mainstay of acting classes everywhere, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, opened last week at Theatre Under Saint Marks in the East Village. Like many Shanley plays, Danny is set in a working class neighborhood of the Bronx, some time in the early 1980s. The play’s popularity not only derives from Shanley’s typically terrific dialog, but also from its strength as an intense two-hander in what Shanley refers to as an “Apache Dance”  (an early 20th century seemingly violent pas-de-deux between Parisian gangsters and their molls).

That intensity thrives in this production. Danny (Brian Patrick Murphy) is a truck driver and brawler with severe rage issues who’s sitting down to his very own pitcher of beer in a neighborhood dive bar. His hands are so taped up from his last scrap that he can scarcely use his fingers. Across from him sits Roberta (Lisa Fernandez), angrily nursing her own beer as well a bowl of pretzels. A menacing exchange leads to a tense discussion, which leads to an aggressive flirtation before they finally go home together. Even by today’s standards they fall into bed rather quickly.

If Danny and the Deep Blue Sea were to have a theme song, it would be the 1924 Ager/Yellen ditty, “Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now).” Both revolve around a street-fighting, angry, drunken brute who meets a girl, falls in love and becomes tender and sweet. Once his cautious façade falls away, Danny’s plunge into his deep sea of love is fairly instantaneous, even if the object of his affection is somewhat more difficult to convince. Their love-making back at Roberta’s place maintains some of the violence to which Danny is accustomed. But like Bill of the song, Danny is quelled fairly quickly by Roberta’s tender affections. Within no time he’s head over heels. They both are. And talking marriage.

 

 

By the cold light of day Roberta, who’s plagued with more real-life issues than Danny (she lives with her parents, has a 13-year old son, despite being only 31 years old, and is anxiety ridden over what she feels is an unmentionable incident), realizes the sweet nothings of the night before were just that: sweet and nothing. But Danny, who comes from a Protestant family, isn’t saddled with her Catholic guilt, and sets out to emancipate her from her shame. The two ultimately see hope in each other, even if it’s temporary or as unreal as the ocean that the rather dim Roberta thinks is nearby (it’s not: the local body of water is the Long Island Sound).

Aimée Fortier’s direction of Fernandez and Murphy is straightforward and effective, despite some awkward moments. The two, who at first seem incompatible, begin to demonstrate real chemistry as they get to know each other. So, their love by play’s end isn’t inconceivable. And while their Bronx accents are a little forced and over-the-top, they’re believable as a couple of working class people down on their luck.

It’s no wonder Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a favorite among developing actors. Like some of Shanley’s better known work (Moonstruck, Doubt), it’s wildly expressive, beautifully written and naturalistic. And despite the time and place feeling a bit dated, the characters are recognizable, and their honest, meet-angry relationship is something we not only are familiar with, but might sometimes yearn for.

 

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. Through November 4 at Theatre Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place, between Avenue A and First Avenue). 90 minutes, no intermission. www.dannyandthedeepbluesea.brownpapertickets.com

 

Photos: Damien Hirst

 

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