Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (1983) hurtles through in under 90 minutes, and it is exhausting to watch. It is also somewhat uncomfortable because, one feels like a voyeur at times. It is tempting to look away, but it is also impossible to do so. This piece should not work because there is no one here to sympathize with at all, yet it does. It is reminiscent of other two-handers of its time and genre, especially Frankie and Johnnie at the Clair de Lune, only those characters are loveable losers compared to Roberta (Edwards) and Danny (Mitchell) who are just losers and seem to have no one to blame but themselves for their miseries.
Roberta is drinking alone in a bar when Danny comes in and sits at another table. They start talking and we learn things about both of them, at this point, mostly about Danny. His hand is bandaged and his face is cut from a fight he was in the night before. He seems to use his fists to counter his own anxieties, like he’s hitting somebody else, but he’s really beating out his panic attacks. He hyperventilates when he thinks about the act of breathing, and he believes one can cause a heart attack by dwelling on it. He is full of “hurt,” as he puts it, so he hurts others. The mean streets of the Bronx are, not incidentally, where Shanley grew up.
Roberta tells Danny a secret about herself, and one of which she is deeply ashamed. This one act haunts her day and night, and she is as much of a loose cannon as he is. Both she and Danny live with parents—he with his mother only—she’s divorced from the man who fathered her child when she was 18. In the bar, the two engage verbally and physically. Improbably, considering earlier actions, she takes him home. They hook up, and then the story really begins.
Danny finds a bride doll in Roberta’s room and the two begin fantasizing. Roberta suggests they be nice to each other, even pretend they’re in love for this night. Danny is awkward, but he really gets into the game. The next morning, Roberta has snapped back to reality, but Danny hasn’t. What happens next? The play itself does have eloquent moments, and Danny and Roberta even remind me of Ronny (angry) and Loretta (guilty) in the film Moonstruck, also by Shanley, but written there for comic effect. Their names even sound similar. Certainly, Shanley does have a fascination with the moon, whether or not it’s real. That makes sense too though, because at bottom, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a fairy tale. The “sea” reference comes from a dream of Roberta’s.
Edwards and Mitchell circle each other like jungle cats, then cuddle like puppies. They are foul-mouthed and tender. Their chemistry is palpable. Oh, there are awkward moments, such as Edwards’ continual fumbling with a sheet she’s wrapped in post-coitus, and when she finally puts her dress back on, we see she’s been wearing panties the whole time. Mitchell has more success with the brief nudity. I realize the sheet can be interpreted as a kind of “bridal gown,” but there has to be a less distracting way to handle keeping Roberta’s tits under wraps.
As is NonProphet’s custom, the set is simple, but changing it from the bar to the bedroom takes longer than it should, so the flow is interrupted. Thanks to the actors though, the rhythm is quickly re-established. I don’t know how other audience members felt, but I had to be convinced. At first, I didn’t care about these people at all. They are unsympathetic and prone to using fuck just for fuck’s sake, or so it seemed. But once we listen to them, really listen, beyond the profanity and the bravado both display, they are deeply wounded creatures. Are they solely responsible for their actions? Yes. Did they willfully cause their own pain? No.
Lighting is setting-appropriate and evocative and Seth Ward Pyatt gets credit. No sound designer is listed, so I suspect it’s Mitchell, but the room is filled with Italian and Italian-inspired tunes before the show opens. Heather Tucker as stage manager and Brendan Allen who operates the board and serves as running crew do the heavy lifting.
Mitchell is a consistently versatile and fine actor. He can play Shakespeare and Shanley with equal credibility. His Danny is a mass of neuroses without an outlet –they call him “the Beast at his job—until he encounters the possibility of redemption through love. Edwards with a Bronx accent sharp as a razor is simply as good as it gets in this play, and almost everything I’ve seen her do in St. Louis. She’s at the top of her game right now, and we’ve missed her while she’s been off studying for her MFA in Directing.
Director Gabica notes that Shanley compares the script to “an Apache Dance,” a violent pas-de-deux in which the dancers physically assault each other. That’s a fair analysis, and Edwards and Mitchell pull no punches.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea runs only one more weekend through July 3. It isn’t for everyone, but I think most admirers of fine performances will feel rewarded by the experience. For information, visit www.nptco.org. Andrea Braun also reviews for KDHX 88.1 FM radio.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT