BWW Review: You Will Want to Take a Shower After Seeing DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA at Theatre 68
Ever since Bonnie and Clyde went on their murderous crime spree, American folklore has been fascinated with maniacal starry-eyed partners-in-crime. Be it the Joker and Harley Quinn in Batman, or Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers, or even Kanye West and Kim Kardashian in real life, there is something grossly appealing about two societal outcasts finding each other and wrecking mayhem on the world together. But just how exactly do these nut-balls meet? Take notes, because Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright John Patrick Shanley helps us answer these questions in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, playing now at Theatre 68 in North Hollywood.
Shanley's artfully simple story opens in a bar. Danny (J. Bailey Burcham) sips a beer alone. He appears disheveled, enjoying his beverage in a juice stained wife-beater. We quickly learn Danny is hyper-aggressive, and his violent temper has a hairpin trigger. Prior to coming to the bar, he may have beaten a man to death. Roberta (Renee Marino) sits on the other side of the bar, also alone, eating pretzels. She is a psychologically disturbed woman, and equally aggressive, albeit smaller and not as physically scary as Danny.
The two bar-crossed lovers end up yelling at each other and fall madly in love after Danny throws Roberta over a table and nearly strangles her to death. They go back to her apartment and that same night he proposes marriage. How romantic.
HOW WAS IT?
Short Answer: If Quentin Tarantino were to write a stage play, you'd get John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. The script is deeply disturbing, and you'll definitely want to take a shower after leaving the theatre. Both characters are written as disgusting maniacs who are nearly impossible to empathize with, but the beauty of this play is that despite their repulsiveness, you'll still find it impossible to look away from them. This is a character driven drama, and Renee Marino and J. Bailey Burcham bring this unnerving piece to life with some outstanding acting.
If you're a fan of creepy stuff, go see this show. I highly recommend.
Longer Answer: This very well could be the prequel to Natural Born Killers. However, unlike the pure visceral violence signature of the screen, we instead get to climb deeper into the heads of our anti-social protagonist-antagonists. The audience is able to witness what makes these two emotionally damaged outcasts so attracted to one another, and it certainly was a powerful experience.
A few weeks ago I called out a really drab production for billing itself as a "play of ideas". The show tried to use the "play of ideas" label as an excuse to not provide any entertainment or art, and instead chose to spend several hours lecturing the audience in academic prose about the playwright's spiritual beliefs. I countered this clear cop-out by submitting that it is entirely possible to have a play that is both intellectually stimulating and artful. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is the perfect example of such a play.
Like with all art, the beauty of this production rests with its simplicity. There really isn't much more to say about this show. It only has two settings and two characters. The design is effective, but minimal. This play's power is thrust entirely within in the dynamic between the two characters, and Theatre 68's actors certainly delivered a disturbingly dangerous dynamic that pulled the audience's attention to the stage like a weight. It was impossible not to be sucked in.
Renee Marino and J. Bailey Burcham almost embodied their psychotic characters a little too perfectly. At times I caught myself holding my breath as I watched in disbelief at the effortless insanity that flowed back and forth between them on stage. This play is the very definition of "character-driven" drama, and these two certainly drove the show forward. Well done.
Who Should See It?
Anyone who is a fan of creepy stuff will love this show.
You should absolutely keep small children away from this one. If the MPAA were in the business of rating stage plays, this would easily get an "R". There is profanity, sexual situations, violence, and themes having to do with child molestation (the playwright John Patrick Shanley is the same guy who wrote Doubt: A Parable).
How to See It
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea runs through April 2nd at Theatre 68 in West Hollywood. Tickets are available here.
Theatre 68 is located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601.
(The night also includes a world premiere of a new, ten-minute, John Patrick Shanley play, Poison, staged right before the feature. Poison is about a crazy ex-girlfriend who tries to get her former boyfriend back with a potion given to her by a gypsy. The moral of that story is don't trust weirdos who identify themselves as "gypsies".)
Photos by Doren Sorell Photography