Review: 'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea' at the Los Angeles Theatre Center
The mood is set for the LA Theatre Center’s current production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea before the play even begins. As the audience is led down several flights of stairs to the dank, dingy room that serves as the Bronx bar where the play is set, the atmosphere is almost a bit foreboding. The subtitle of the play is “an apache dance,” which is a dramatic, violent dance between two people. While “dance” is used in the figurative sense here, the play, which is performed with no intermission, is certainly a very intense back-and forth experience.
Written by John Patrick Shanley and directed here by Fidel Gonez, the play tells the story of Danny and Roberta, two damaged strangers who meet one night at a bar and find themselves drawn to one another, for better or for worse. Throughout the course of the night they share, they confide their darkest secrets, fight (both physically and verbally), and imagine a better future for themselves. The subject matter is dark—there is a lot of yelling and physical violence, and at times you could sense the discomfort of the audience. The seating for the intimate production was intentionally haphazard, consisting of tables and chairs distributed amongst the “bar” space—some audience members even found themselves seated at the same tiny table as the actors at times. This immersive design only added to the energy and tension of the piece.
Considering how exhausting Roberta and Danny’s “dance” was to watch, it is difficult to imagine how emotionally draining it must be to perform. Hugo Medina and Sofia Yepes were simply magnetic, bringing humanity to two very difficult characters. While your initial instinct is that both Roberta and Danny are terrible human beings, you find yourself still rooting for them to figure their lives out and find some peace. Medina did an excellent job at shifting between Danny’s overly tough, menacing exterior and the quieter moments in which you see he does have a softer side. Yepes was heartbreaking as Sofia, who is struggling to move on from a shocking incident she feels she hasn’t been properly punished for. She manages to simultaneously be forceful and vulnerable. The two had outstanding chemistry, which is necessary in a work that relies on the audience believing in such a deep connection between two people who literally just met.
The ending of the play is rather ambiguous, leaving it up to the audience to decide what might become of Roberta and Danny when the fateful night is over. Unfortunately, I found it hard to imagine things would work out well for them, which in many ways seems to be the point of Shanley’s work. Sometimes damaged people find comfort in someone they believe to be even more damaged than them, but Roberta and Danny are so volatile that it does seem the fantasy life they briefly imagine for themselves is merely just what Roberta calls it once the sun rises— make believe. The characters and the audience alike learn something from this make believe, however, making Danny and the Deep Blue Sea a powerful theater experience.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, which is produced in part by The Latino Theater Company, plays
its final performance this Saturday, August 1st. For more information on LA Theatre Center’s
upcoming productions, please visit theLATC.org.