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A CurtainUp Review

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

I ain't never planned no single fuckin thing in my life. I ain't never done nothin. Things happen to me. Me, you, what you did. We didn't do that stuff. It happened to us.
---Danny, after deciding that maybe he could plan his life instead of just letting things happen.
Adam Rothenberg & Rosemarie DeWitt
Adam Rothenberg & Rosemarie DeWitt
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Imagine Moonstruck's Loretta and Ronny as ten years younger and their lives not just dull, but totally dark and dysfunctional. Actually, three years before Cher and Nicolas Cage propelled John Patrick Shanley's Moonstruck to an Oscar win, the playwright imagined two such characters for his first drama, Danny and the Dark Blue Sea.

Danny and Roberta make bookkeeper Loretta and wooden-handed butcher Ronny's lives look like paradise even before love transforms their hum-drum existence into a fairy tale. Danny is a brutish 29-year-old truck driver who's earned the nickname The Beast for the hot temper which embroils him in one fight after another, the last violent enough to have him worried that he killed somebody. Roberta is also a misfit, a divorced single mother living with parents she hates and a guilty secret that keeps her friendless, loveless and with as bleak a future as Danny's.

Yet, as with other Shanley characters, including Rich in the new Sailor's Song (see review link below), there's a yearning for love and a better life inside these battered losers. The moon outside Roberta's Bronx bedroom may be a computer-regulated light, but it nevertheless shines long enough to work its magic -- well, sort of.

With two new Shanley plays opening almost simultaneously, this revival is propitiously timed to afford us a chance to examine what constitutes this playwright's unique voice and persistent themes. The play follows an arc as predictable as the changes in the moon that's as much a Shanley hallmark as the poetically spiced tough talk. And yet, the onion-like peeling away of Danny's pugnacious mean streak and Roberta's unresolved guilt still makes you care enough about this inarticulate, messed-up pair to be glad you have a ringside seat at their romantic wrestling match or Apache Dance (the play's subtitle) -- even though you know how it's going to end.

Shanley's time-resistant mix of humorous and heartstring pulling dialogue is well served by Leigh Silverman's solid, well-paced staging and Adam Rothenberg's and Rosemarie DeWitt's portrayal of the tenderness hungry tough lovers. From the minute we see them at their separate tables, the tension within each is as unnerving as the snapping sound made by Roberta's toying with the pretzels in the bowl on her table. As they begin their move from hostility (when Danny asks if he can have her pretzels) to halting conversation, Rothenberg is appropriately menacing, yet not too much so for him to drop his guard and even talk quite lyrically about his one visit to the country ("All night you never seen so many stars. It gave me a headache. Really. But then I saw there was this one bunch that looked like a big fish. A big fish jumping around in the stars. And cause I could see something in there, you know, somethin' that added up, the whole thing didn't give me a headache no more").

Once Danny and Roberta share the secrets that have made both seemingly ineligible for a life with possibilities (Danny announces that he plans to shoot himself when he turns thirty), it's clear that together they may just find a way to deal with his out-of-control violence and her self-loathing. To move to the next step in the relationship, Santo Loquasto has what looks like a huge skylight drop down on the rather too bright and slick barroom set to convert it into Roberta's bedroom, complete with a glimpse of the electric moon and the doll in a bridal dress that represents both their dreams. A therapist would be thrilled to achieve in a year the sea change they undergo in one night!

From their antaganostic apache dance to the moonless but hopeful ending, Rothenberg and DeWitt embody their roles. They could teach a Berlitz course in Bronx-speak.

In a season over-dominated by solo shows, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is also a reminder that two actors on stage are infinitely more satisfying than one actor who relies on the audience for interaction. Though only Danny appears in the title, without Roberta he would remain in that deep blue sea of loneliness and despair.

Below a link to Doubt , Shanley's second new play this season, as well as Sailor's Song, even though I won't be reviewing the former until its official opening on November 23.
Sailor's Song

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Cast: Adam Rothenberg and Rosemarie DeWitt
Set Design:Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: John Gromada
Running time: . 80 minutes, without an intermission
Second Stage, 307 W. 43rd Street, 212/246-4422
10/21/04 to 12/05/04; opening 11/10/04.
Tue at 7pm; Wed - Sat at 8pm; Wed, Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm; also Nov 1, 8, 22 at 8pm; Oct 24, Nov 14, 28 at 7pm.
Tickets, $42 - $65.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 8th press performance
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