In a city where most plays run 6 weeks or less, The Elephant Theater’s
production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, John Patrick Shanley’s
unexpected love story of two very lost and damaged souls, has become a real
L.A. theater phenomenon. Recipient of the very hard-to-get L.A. Times “Critics
Choice,” Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, now in its fifth sold-out month, has
been extended yet again, through October.  Last night I found out why.

The theater is quite dark when we enter, and filled with artificial smoke, only
slightly illuminated by a dim blue light reflected in the haze.  We see two small
round bar tables several yards apart on the stage, and nothing else. 
Otherworldly, aquatic-sounding music plays in the background.  Since the pre-
show announcements have already been made as we waited in the lobby,
there is no other sound to break the mood. Then, suddenly, the theater is
plunged into total darkness. A match is lit on stage, and then a candle in a
round red jar illuminates a woman’s face.  She is smoking. The lights come up,
two stark spots shining directly from stage left.  A man enters with a pitcher of
beer and a beer glass. He starts to fill the glass, then pours the beer over his
hands instead, the beer spilling on the floor. We know that are definitely in for
something different tonight.

Danny is a violent man with a dark soul. “I think I killed this guy last night,” he
tells Roberta. “Everything hurts and the only time it stops is when I’m hitting on
somebody.” Danny is just 29, but says he wants to die when he turns 30.  He is
known as “the Beast.”

Roberta is 31, and equally lost. Pregnant at 18, she has a screwed-up 13-year-
old son and layers of guilt from an incestuous relationship that torments her
still. Though she is still living with her parents, she tells Danny “You got no home,
just like me.”

What starts out as verbal sparring between a man and a woman in a bar
develops into something much more after they return to Roberta’s room and
make love. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea transforms before our eyes into one
of the most powerful and suspenseful love stories I’ve seen. At first, Danny and
Roberta almost repel us. They’re the kind of people we avert our eyes from if
we happen to walk past them. By the end of the play, we have become so
invested in their salvation that we are leaning forward, on the edge of our
seats, praying for these two losers to find deliverance in each other’s arms.  This
is very powerful stuff indeed.

For Danny and the Deep Blue Sea to work, it must have two consummate
actors in the starring roles, and this production most certainly does. Deborah
Dir and Daniel De Weldon are both members of the legendary Actors’ Studio,
and it shows.  Dir creates a rough, even vulgar Roberta, which makes her
reluctant softening all the more powerful. In her heavy New York accent and
with her eyes showing many layers of pain (“Don’t touch me.  It burns,” she tells
Danny), Dir commands the stage with an electric presence.  De Weldon is
every bit her equal. With a James Dean look and intensity, he creates a Danny
whose violence is a defense against loneliness, and as his hardness begins to
melt, De Weldon accomplishes the miraculous. He makes Danny heroic. We
are rooting, even praying for him not to give up on Roberta. I haven’t felt this
much suspense in a theater since Twelve Angry Men.

Michael Arabian’s direction is nothing short of brilliant. This is clearly a director
with a vision, and it shows in his many directorial choices. He is aided by some
of the finest set, lighting, and sound design you’ll see in L.A. theater.  I loved
the “deep blue sea” motifs of Max Maksimovic’s Roberta’s messy bedroom
set. The walls are cut to resemble a large sea shell, and there’s a fishing net
hanging above her bed. Frank McKown and Joe Fusco’s magnificent lighting
of the first act has already been described. In Act 2, it is equally fine—at first,
the dimly lit lovemaking, and a later scene where the lights fade to black with
only a single candle burning in the dark.  The background music is loud and
striking, evoking both the sea metaphor and the violence of the two

This is a production that makes a theatergoer proud to call L.A. his home. That
audiences have flocked to the theater week after week, spurred on by rave
reviews and perhaps even more so by word of mouth, proves that theatrical
miracles do indeed happen in this town.  If, like me, you’ve managed to miss
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea up until now, do yourself a favor and see this
show.  You’ll find out what all the talk has been about.

Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
   September 7, 2007

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