Review: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Pacific Theatre
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a thrill ride of play. In 80 intermission-less minutes, Director Jason Goode and his cast take the audience on an emotional journey that slingshots between guffawing humour, bleeding pity, wrenching tenderness, and outright terror.
The play’s events are simple. Danny, a brooding, angry man with a proclivity towards violence, and Roberta, a slouching, exhausted divorcee, are drinking alone at a bar. A fraught dialogue is struck up, punctuated by threats and dismissal. As a tentative bond is created, considerable emotional defenses are lowered just enough to allow confessions from the past to escape, offering glimpses at the deep hurt each carries. The two go home together, dare to be tender and vulnerable, and wake up to the cold light of day.
The theatre is full of broken, desperate, and angry characters. Whether it is Hamlet mourning his father, Brick drinking his way into oblivion, or George and Martha torturing one another, a character’s past creating present torment is a staple in drama. What makes John Patrick Shanley’s characters different, is their inability to express it. While Hamlet and Brick can articulate where their pain stems from, and have a plan to overcome it, Danny and Roberta are inarticulate and trapped. When Danny tries explain his feelings he quite literally chokes on the words, breaking down into gasps and sobs. Neither character knows what course of action will make them feel better, instead they stumble and grope blindly, daring to hope that the other might possess the key to escaping their old wounds.
Playing the physically and emotionally demanding roles were Aleks Paunovic (Danny) and Lori Triolo (Roberta). Their fearless, unblinking performances were stunning to behold. The headbutting and conflict in the play’s first scene reached an intensity seldom witnessed on stage. The danger and aggression of this scene made the impact of the second all the more powerful, as their brittle armour was chipped away to allow the expression of cautious, tender affection and optimism.
For all the harrowing places that Danny and the Deep Blue Sea takes its audience and actors, the play is ultimately, and overwhelmingly, about hope and redemption. Shanley would seem to remind us that light shines brightest in the darkest of places. This message was well-received by the play’s end on opening night, as before the lights had come on the audience erupted to their feet, tears in their eyes, to applaud the deeply moving performance.