Renée Marino and J. Bailey Burcham are absolutely riveting as two of the most damaged souls you’ll ever see sharing a stage in Panic! Productions and Theatre 68’s powerful revival of John Patrick Shanley’s gut-wrenching yet unexpectedly magical Danny And The Deep Blue Sea.

“Violent and battered, inarticulate and yearning to speak, dangerous and vulnerable” is how Shanley himself describes Roberta and Danny, an unemployed single mother and the brawny construction worker who, having quite possibly killed a man in a fight over twenty dollars, has picked a sleazy, near empty bar in which 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 brute of a man with a tormented soul, it doesn’t take Danny long to reveal a bit of that torment 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 every bit a mess. Pregnant at eighteen, she has a “fucked-up” thirteen-year-old son and layers of guilt from a past that has yet to stop tormenting her. Though still living with her parents, in her hardened heart, Roberta feels just as emotionally adrift as the lost soul whose acquaintance she has just made.

What starts out as a verbal boxing match, and one as likely as not to meet a violent end, soon transforms into as powerful and unpredictable a love story as you’re likely to see all year. (The first time I saw Danny And The Deep Blue Sea, I wrote, “I haven’t felt this much suspense in a theater since Twelve Angry Men.”)

Having played Danny in Theatre 68’s “13 By Shanley” festival back in 2009, Ronnie Marmo is uniquely qualified to direct Marino and Burcham eight years later, and both stars reward him with revelatory work.

Absolutely stunning in her straight play debut, musical theater triple-threat (Jersey Boys on Broadway, Damn Yankees locally) Marino gives us a woman whose hard-edged exterior is but a defense mechanism against a past transgression she considers unspeakable.

Burcham’s big, burly Danny would seem at first glance the most unlikely of soul mates to a woman he could easily pulverize with a single punch, but Marino’s Damn Yankees costar reveals a deep blue sea’s worth of tenderness beneath bruises both physical and emotional.

Scenic designer Danny Cistone has once again created a set whose chameleonlike changes impress, and not just in Danny And The Deep Blue Sea.

Opening the evening is the World Premiere one-act Poison, fifteen minutes of Shanley at his quirkiest, director Kay Cole eliciting charming performances from Kelsey Flynn as Kelly, Heidi Rhodes as the Gypsy she consults in order to win back the man who dumped her, and Nicola Tombacco as said dumper Kenny.

Jenny Nwene’s lighting is first-rate too as are the production’s uncredited sound and costume designs.

Paul Panico is producer and Robert Weibezahl is associate producer. Veniese Razo is stage manager. Katie Zeiner takes over the role of Gypsy on March 16.

With scenes as powerful as the three extended ones Shanley has written for Roberta and Danny, it’s no wonder Danny And The Deep Blue Sea has become an acting class favorite. See all three scenes together and you’ve got one spellbinding evening of theater (with a bit of Poison thrown in for good measure).

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Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
March 9, 2017
Photos: Doren Sorell Photography

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