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Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

Adam Rothenberg and Rosemarie DeWitt in
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
John Patrick Shanley writes the kind of dialogue that actors love to sink their teeth into. His words are often able to cut to the heart of a character's emotions in a way that is both ruthless and poetic. This is perhaps exemplified in his breakthrough 1984 work, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, now receiving a fine revival from Second Stage Theatre.

Two wounded souls meet in a bar somewhere in the Bronx. Roberta (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a 31-year-old, divorced, single mother who carries an enormous burden of guilt and shame resulting from a sexual indiscretion she's loath to admit. Danny (Adam Rothenberg) is a working-class bruiser who, at the age of 29, promises to himself that he'll put a gun to his head when he turns 30; he constantly gets into fights and thinks that he may have even killed someone the night before. Initially seated at two different tables in the bar, these characters begin a conversation that leads to an unlikely connection.

The two actors have a compelling onstage chemistry that makes the budding romance of Danny and Roberta completely believable. DeWitt comes across as a bit too shrill at first, but once she settles into her character, she does some very nice work; she has a strong, forceful stage presence and is also quite charismatic and sexy. Her eyes are enormously expressive as they reflect Roberta's precarious emotional state. Rothenberg plays the gruff surface aspects of his role a little too heavy-handedly but is masterful in connecting with the powerful feelings raging inside of Danny. The actor does not have the kind of volatile unpredictability that would make Danny -- whom his co-workers have dubbed "The Beast" -- seem truly dangerous. What he does possess is an endearing, boyish petulance that's expressed through quirky little facial expressions. Rothenberg also has a great sense of comic timing.

Director Leigh Silverman seems to emphasize the comedy within the play, to good effect. The pacing of the action is superb, and the intermissionless production flies by in an hour and 10 minutes. Santo Loquasto's set is engineered to suggest that the two characters exist in their own private world. A raised square platform stands isolated at the center of the stage, serving as the bar where the soon-to-be-lovers meet. Then, as the action shifts, the platform splits apart to make way for another set unit that descends from on high to serve as Roberta's bedroom. In each scene, the two characters are surrounded by a great deal of empty space; it's as if they've found at least a temporary refuge where the only things that matter are within their immediate grasp, most importantly including each other.

The original music and sound design of John Gromada sets the mood without being obtrusive. Jeff Croiter's lighting has a softly romantic feel, and Jennifer von Mayrhauser's costumes are just right. The only technical element that seems out of place is the uncredited make-up design; the wounds on Danny's face and knuckles are a very unrealistic looking, vibrant shade of red.

November 2004 is turning out to be a very good month for John Patrick Shanley. His excellent new play Sailor's Song just opened at the Public Theater in a production by the LAByrinth Theatre Company. Still to come is the debut of another new work, Doubt, at Manhattan Theatre Club. While the Second Stage revival of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea may not be one for the ages, it does capture the big-hearted romanticism for which Shanley is well-known (evidenced in his screenplay for Moonstruck and many other works). The brilliance of the writing shines through and, by play's end, you find yourself rooting for these two characters who have screwed up their lives badly but may still find salvation in each other.


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