Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is an early piece by playwright John Patrick Shanley, but you wouldn't know it, since it's filled with the same kind of crackling dialogue and troubled characters that populate most of his work. I was reminded more than once of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's classic composition "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea", not just because of the obvious similarities between the titles, but due to Koehler's lyrics like: "I don't want you/but I hate to lose you" and "I want to cross you off my list/but when you come knocking at my door/fate seems to give my heart a twist/and I come running back for more". Those words really seem to fit this pair of damaged individuals who are searching for something positive in their lives, despite their inability to connect with anyone, at least until they meet up with one another. The NonProphet Theatre Company's presentation is a real stunner, powered by two great performances that make it must-see viewing.
Danny is a rage filled man who's nearing forty and still living with his mother. He's called a "beast" by his peers, and seems ready for a fight at the drop of a hat, or any eye contact or mumbled comment that he can take the wrong way. Roberta is a bitter divorced woman who's living with her parents and teenage son, who's living with the pain and guilt of a sad and dirty little incident that occurred between her father and herself. They're both wracked with the kind of feelings that make them unfit for anyone's company, but there's a spark that occurs between them on this fateful night. Both open up in ways that neither thought possible, and even though the rosy glow of lovemaking and promises that happens later that night seems to crumble in the harsh glare of the day, there are encouraging signs that something may actually develop between these two misfit souls.
Robert A. Mitchell is terrific as the fearsome Danny, his knuckles bloodied by a violent bout the previous night that may or may not have left a man dead. He's unwilling to share anything about himself until he meets Roberta, who's just as tough as he is. Brooke Edwards is equally strong as Roberta, and you can feel her pain and unease as she struggles to let Danny into her own troubled world. It may not be a match made in heaven, but you root for them both. In lesser actors hands this material would probably flounder, or even fail, but Mitchell and Edwards bring a sense of emotional reality to the characters that wins you over, despite the many flaws that both possess.
Ray Gabica's direction finds the heart in Shanley's tough-minded tale, and Shanley himself describes the play as a kind of verbal "Apache Dance", a violent style that's long fallen out of fashion, but aptly fits these two kindred souls. The changeable set is smartly conceived, allowing the initial bar setting to switch easily into Roberta's tiny bedroom, and Seth Ward Pyatt's lighting design adds to the atmospherics.
The characters in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea might not be the sort of people you'd necessarily want to run into on the street or in a bar, but they're certainly the kind that make for a compelling evening of theatre. The NonProphet Theatre Company's excellent production continues through July 3, 2011 at the Regional Arts Commission on Delmar.