Several years before Cher responded to Nicolas Cage’s declaration of love with a “Snap out of it!” and a pair of slaps in the now classic romcom Moonstruck, its Oscar-winning screenwriter John Patrick Shanley gained theatrical fame with Danny And The Deep Blue Sea, a two-character one-act “Apache Dance” performed by a pair of protagonists who make Moonstruck’s Ronny and Loretta seem positively angelic by comparison. These two characters, Roberta and Danny, are now brought to vivid, gutsy, mesmerizing life by Juliet Landau and Matthew J. Williamson in Crown City Theatre Company’s stunning revival of the early ‘80s Shanley gem.

“Violent and battered, inarticulate and yearning to speak, dangerous and vulnerable” is how Shanley himself describes his play’s two leads:  Roberta, an unemployed single mother and Danny, the brawny construction worker who may have killed a man tonight in a fight over twenty dollars and who’s picked this sleazy, near empty bar to seek refuge in because otherwise “I feel like I’m gonna have to fight everybody in the whole fuckin’ Bronx to get home.”

A violent man with a dark soul, it doesn’t take Danny long to reveal a bit of that soul to Roberta: “Everything hurts all that time, and the only thing that stops it is when I hit on somebody.” Danny is just twenty-nine, but when he turns thirty, “I’m gonna put a gun in my mouth and blow my fuckin’ head off.” No wonder they call him “the Beast.”

Roberta is two years older than Danny and equally lost. Pregnant at eighteen, she has a fucked-up thirteen-year-old son and layers of guilt from an incestuous past that has yet to stop tormenting her. Though still living with her parents, Roberta tells Danny “You got no home, just like me.”

What starts out as a verbal boxing match, and one as likely as not to end up with either Danny or Roberta punching the other out, soon transforms into as powerful and suspenseful a love story as you’re likely to see all year. At first, Danny and Roberta are almost repellant. They’re certainly not the kind of people most of us would care to spend any significant length of time with. Nonetheless, we end up caring, longing in fact for these unlikely lovers to find salvation in each other’s arms.

John Patrick Shanley’s Danny And The Deep Blue Sea is indeed powerful stuff, particularly as performed by the splendid Williamson and the extraordinary Landau.

One of the founding members of Crown City Theatre Company, Williamson proves himself the very definition of versatile in his stellar work as Danny, a 180 degree turn from the musical comedy leading man we saw playing Adam (in long flesh-colored underwear and a fig leaf) in Crown City’s enchanting The Apple Tree. Physically imposing enough to strike fear in the heart of any soul unlucky enough to cross his path, Williamson gives us a Danny whose brutish exterior hides a heart of mush, if only Roberta will stick around long enough to find it. Williamson’s is the kind of work you hope will get seen by “the right people,” because this is an actor who deserves big things to happen in his career.


As Roberta, Landau gives a performance so breathtaking, it will be hard for any actress to top as best of the year. Most directors would probably cast a “tough broad” as Roberta, and Landau does give us one ballsy chick in the play’s early scenes. Still, it’s when Danny starts to melt Roberta’s heart that Landau melts our hearts as well, making this life-scarred loser downright adorable, meaning that she’s both cute as a button and that she’s worthy of Danny’s love-struck adoration. Put a camera on Landau’s face, mute the volume, and you could pretty much guess what’s happening on stage without hearing a word of spoken dialog…and how often can you say that about a stage performance?

Credit for Williamson’s and Landau’s work must be shared by director John McNaughton, who has taken Shanley’s marvelous script and added a beat here, a glance there, a bit of business in between, to stunning effect.

Keiko Moreno’s deep blue set design is abstract enough to fit the playwright’s instructions that “this play is emotionally real, but does not take place in a realistic world. Only those scenic elements necessary to the action should be on stage,” yet gorgeous enough to put any basic “black box” design to shame. Gary Lamb’s lighting is equally beautiful and mood-enhancing. Costumes by Tanya Apuya fit each character to perfection. The uncredited sound design is equally fine, with just the right choice of music and just the right effects. Tony Potter is lighting consultant. Kimberly Bullock is production stage manager.

Danny And The Deep Blue Sea is produced by Crown City Theatre Company, William A. Reilly, Bullock, Ben Rovner, Lamb, and Joanne McGee.

Over the past several years, Crown City Theatre Company has emerged as one of North Hollywood’s very best, in productions as diverse as USS Pinafore, A Big Gay (North) Hollywood Wedding, I’m Just Wild About Harry, and last holiday season’s A Chicago Christmas Carol. Like those previous productions, Danny And The Deep Blue Sea looks to be headed towards an extended run, and with good reason. It is not only theater of the highest quality, but a perfect December choice for playgoers looking for something other than standard Christmas fare. Expect to be stunned.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 27, 2011
Photos: Deverill Weekes

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