When playwright John Patrick Shanley won an Oscar for best screenplay for the film Moonstruck in 1987, he earned the privilege to write just about anything he wanted. The Invisible City Theatre Company’s production of the 1984 play Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Manhattan Theatre Source is a glowing example of Shanley’s rough and modern storytelling genius.
Manhattan Theatre Source is an abundance of theatrical support and a home to actors, directors, and playwrights in New York. It seems like a solid place to hone a craft in a nurturing environment. The space is reminiscent of a college dorm with its sofas, cafés and open library on the second level.
The two-member cast production was staged in a dimly lit theatre in the round. The single row of chairs around the stage limited the seating but increased the sense of dramatic nonconformity. It was inevitable that some of the scenes were not going to be in full view, but this drawback was forgivable and even intriguing.
The story is quite simple. A man and woman meet in a bar to escape their personal lives and slowly engage in an awkward conversation. After they find themselves to be social misfits, Roberta brings Danny home and they make love. They later make the decision to try to love each other to spite the world that did not love them. They feel they have nothing else to lose. The program reads, “Everyone has a first time and a last chance.”
Director Elizabeth Horn used mildly aggressive rock music to introduce the scenes in a way that was not unlike watching a video on MTV. Slick and modern, the scene changes were beautifully choreographed, giving the actors a dash of mystery between scenes. Horn demonstrated a great talent for visual creation.
Jennifer Baines played a gorgeous Roberta with a sweet disposition mixed with a feistiness that was at once enduring. Dennis Tiede was fascinating as the angry truck driver who has a violent streak that he tries in vain to control. When he became upset, the character had trouble breathing and pushed people away. The development of their relationship was compelling to watch when they allowed themselves to touch one another, and was frustrating when either one drew back. Baines’s use of a tough New York accent added a sense of raw defensiveness to her role. Character relationship built between the two actors was convincing. Although Shanley’s script can be very depressing, the duo managed to earn many well-deserved laughs during the 75-minute performance.
Costumes were simple, lower-middle-class street clothes (Danny in a truck driver’s uniform and Roberta in an 80s-chick-who-never-grew-out-of-the-phase outfit) that were removable and flattering to the actors’ bodies.
Lighting design by Joe W. Novak was sensitive and set a tone for intimacy in each scene that was immediately sexy, dark and intense.
For so short a run, it was notable to see that the play had developed to such a level of polish. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea was an evening of strong, quality theatre. Bravo.
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Copyright 2003 Jade Esteban Estrada