Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Theatre N16

John Patrick Shanley isn’t particularly well-known this side of the pond, but back in the States, this Irish-American playwright from a rough part of the Bronx is regularly produced. Probably most well-known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt: A Parable, he is still writing plays and films. Currently exceeding 23 in number, he’s as prolific as Shakespeare and much more so than many playwrights of his generation. Though his early works lack the trappings of modern technology, the focus on relationship and family dynamics transcend any dated aspects of the setting. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is Shanley’s second play, a two-handler set in a dingy Bronx bar where Danny and Roberta, two strangers running out of steam to continue in their own skin, find solace in a night of intimacy. Theatrum Veritatus resurrect this Shanley play from the ’80s with a solid production grounded in good performances and direction that seeks to tell this story of two lonely, angry people looking for someone to help them escape their dismal realities. 

Gareth O’Connor and Megan Lloyd-Jones are Danny and Roberta. Both are coldly aggressive, defensive against the world that has dragged them through the muck. Both have their secrets and recognise a kindred spirit across an empty bar. O’Connor nails Danny’s aggression but convincingly softens in his intimate moments with Roberta. Lloyd-Jones does the same with a character that is arguably more horrific and manipulative, but her capacity for vulnerability within such a character is admirable. The two have great chemistry and ability to capture nuance within broader characterisation choices.

Director Courtney Larkin takes advantage of the small bar in TheatreN16 and doubles up the technician as an unspeaking barman. It’s a clever device; luckily she found a willing board operator. The staging didn’t always cater to audience sight lines, though. With the bar perpendicular to one side of the audience, she followed that line rather than a diagonal that would make it easier to see both characters when they are sitting at the same table. The bedroom scenes avoided this, but with the bed as a mattress on the floor and no audience rake, this also challenged audience members beyond the first row. Otherwise there are no issues with Larkin’s work – she allows the text to breathe and grow at its own pace. 

Shanley’s script is understandably dated and has some implausible transitions, especially considering New Yorkers aren’t prone to striking up conversations with random strangers. These are soon forgotten in favour of the performances and actors’ sensitivity to the other’s character. It’s a touching story about the human condition and need to connect with others, no matter how damaged we might be, and the character-driven plot in a well-suited venue make this a good production of a little-known modern American classic.

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