Monday, March 6, 2017

REVIEW: ALLIANCE REP’S “DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA” A HYPNOTIC EVENING OF THEATER

By Ruth Ross

In Doubt, Outside Mullingar and Moonstruck, playwright John Patrick Shanley showed his penchant for damaged characters. Likewise, in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, the current offering at Alliance Rep in Summit, Shanley shines the spotlight on two tormented, mad souls who meet in a seedy, desolate bar and, seeking solace from their demons, struggle awkwardly through the night toward human connection, redemption and love.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, drink, child and indoor

An affecting study of alienation and the redemptive power of love, Shanley’s play begins when two of society's rejects, Danny and Roberta, strike up a halting conversation over their beer. He is a brooding, self-loathing young man who resorts more to violence than reason. Called "the beast" by his fellow truck drivers, Danny seems incapable of tender emotion. Divorced, guilt-ridden Roberta, whose troubled teenage son is being cared for by her parents, is haunted by the memory of an ugly sexual incident involving her father and is distrustful of men in general. On a whim, they decide to spend the night together. As their reserves melt, they begin to entertain the possibility of a meaningful relationship—the first for both of them.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoorAt first glance, neither of these characters is very appealing or sympathetic, but as they peel away their tough our shells and engage in halting “romantic” talk, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea becomes what The Dramalogue described as "...a funny, frightening, hypnotic and fascinating evening of theater." Alliance Rep’s Artistic Director Michael Driscoll once again flexes his directorial muscle to keep the action—most of it rawly emotional—moving steadily along, without a rush, on a stage decorated with but a few props, all the better to focus on the evolving characters locked in a dance of loneliness.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, drink, table and indoorAs Roberta, Katie Housley (below) appears very comfortable and natural onstage, especially when she reveals the awful secret her character has been keeping. She’s soft-spoken and winning, although her accent sounds more Boston than Bronx. He loneliness is most apparent when she asks Danny to “talk romantic.” In the role of Danny, Chris Clark (right) seems more tightly wound, as befits a character so quivering with rage (“Everybody makes me mad,” he says) that he feels so “full” that “everything hurts.” Danny is more closed off than Roberta, so when Clark hesitantly gives her compliments, we feel his discomfort and pain. He ends up more invested in the nascent relationship, so when Roberta tells him in the morning that it’s over, his reaction is heartbreaking. Valiantly, he attempts to salvage something of the previous evening, making his vulnerability palpable.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, night, indoor and closeupEd Pearson’s lighting adds to the lonely atmosphere, as does Brad Howell’s use of a sonorous fog horn of a boat in the river.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea has been described as “a wrenching love story” by the Daily News and “the equivalent of sitting at ringside watching a prize fight that concludes in a loving embrace” by the New York Times. It is the perfect vehicle for a company that produces plays with small casts, spare scenery and simple costumes in a tiny black box theater located on the lower level of a venue in the middle of Summit—to great dramatic impact that gives theatergoers real bang for their buck. But leave the kids at home; this is adult theater at its best.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea will be performed through March 18 at MONDO, 426 Springfield Avenue, Summit, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM and Thursday, March 9, at 8 PM. For information and tickets, call the box office at 908.472.1502 or visit www.alliancerep.org  online.

Photos by Howard Fischer.