How ‘bout a pretzel?
No. They’re mine.
You ain’t gonna eat all of ‘em. Lemme have one.
You wanna pretzel?
We’re in a neighborhood tavern late at night and a man and woman are drinking alone at separate tables. Formerly a secretary for an extermination company, the now unemployed Roberta is a 31-year-old divorcée who lives with her parents whom she hates and her 13-year-old “crazy” son. Danny is a single 29-year-old truck driver nicknamed “The Beast” living with his mother who works in a bakery and who vomits every night because she can’t stand the sweetness. His hands are bloody and his face has a cut because he was just in a fight with someone that he can’t remember who he thinks he may have killed. Due to her despair and loneliness, Roberta makes contact, invading his solitude. After a tempestuous getting acquainted, he spends the night in her room. Will they find love and happiness together?
Crackling with insight, tension and suspense, Shanley tenderly charts this true-to-life encounter through precise specificity that captures the milieu of working class ethnic New Yorkers of a bygone era. His distinctive dialogue is a rich amalgam of the rhythms of Paddy Chayefsky’s mundanity, Harold Pinter’s non-sequiturs and Neil Simon’s jokes that’s all his own style. He vividly dramatizes the human condition by creating these affectively forceful characters that are a grand showcase for the actors who play them.
Brian Patrick Murphy as Danny and Lisa Fernandez as Roberta have a thrilling intensity, playfulness and chemistry together. With their accurate Bronx accents, youthful weariness and emotional volatility, their histrionics are a jolting delight that recalls the ferocious original cast recording of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. A highlight of their captivating collaboration is a wonderful joint reverie where they fantasize about what their wedding would be like.
Scruffy, athletic, tattooed and with luxurious dark hair, Mr. Murphy looks like a troubled urban laborer. Employing his tenor voice that growls and rises to expressiveness, Murphy sounds like one as well. When told that they can’t be married in a Catholic church because she’s divorced, his “We won’t tell them” is priceless. It’s a physically and vocally commanding performance.
With her throaty charged delivery and metropolitan cadences, the animated Ms. Fernandez is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking as Roberta.
Fernandez is shattering as she discloses a dark secret that she’s been torturing herself with, spitting out the words with agonizing fury. Long-haired, possessed of striking facial features and physically graceful as she saunters all over the bar and later being unguarded in her bedroom, she is always compelling.
For a two-people-in-a-room piece, director Aimée Fortier manages to formulate enough visual interest with her subtle physical staging and that allows the actors to go full throttle with a measure of restraint. The scene transition between the bar and the bedroom is an entrancing brief sequence as the cast hauls away and replaces the furniture with lively movements and sounds that maintain their characterizations. Slaps, punches and assorted combative flourishes are realized by Kevin Patrick McGuire’s vigorous fight choreography.
Scenic designer Mary Marxen’s simple arrangement of two small battered tables and some chairs and later on a pivotal mattress perfectly depicts the locales on a small scale. A string of red lights hanging on the ceiling and blue-bulbs that spell B-A-R on the stage’s black back wall are the obvious features of Gilbert “Lucky” Pearto’s moody dim lighting. Birds chirping and other outside tones are well rendered by sound designer Mike McFadden. Costume designer Ilana Lupkin effectively utilizes jeans, leather and T-shirts to represent the characters with authenticity.
A perennial of contemporary dramatic literature, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea premiered in 1984 at the Circle in the Square Downtown where it ran for 117 performances with John Turturro in the title role, winning an Obie and a Theatre World Award for him.
This brilliant incarnation is a testament to its enduring resonance that combines humor with the pain of existence. Adding to this rewarding experience is seeing it at Theatre Under St. Marks, a 45-seat venue that’s a crumbling East Village basement space that’s been in operation since the 1970’s. It’s one of the last surviving original outposts of the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (through November 4, 2018)
Theatre Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.dannyandthedeepbluesea.brownpapertickets.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission