Pacific Theatre’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a moving, funny and provocative performance. Directed by Jason Goode and starring Aleks Paunovic and Lori Triolo, it is a play that challenges you to think about the nature of self-abuse, forgiveness and our profound need for others.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is the story of two angry and friendless strangers who meet in a bar in the Bronx. Danny, who is known as “the beast,” is likely to turn you into a bloody pulp for looking at him funny. Roberta is emotionally desperate single mother living at home with her parents and her teenage son. Both are drowning in lonely desperation and haunted by their pasts. Danny and Roberta’s interactions start as a drizzle but quickly turns to a violent and torrential outpouring of emotion.
The result is a physical, and emotionally charged 80 minutes that is as bitter as it is sweet. Watching the show is a relentless emotional experience. Just as you think your heart is going to break you get sucker punched with humour.
The idea for this production began to germinate about five years ago when Paunovic, Danny, discovered the play and brought it to film director Jason Goode. A screen veteran (Arctic Air, Battlestar Galactica) and former boxing champion, Paunovic says that for a long time he was afraid of the role. The play demands that its actors traverse raw emotional territory. And at 6’5 and 245 pounds Paunovic says, “Being a big guy I felt some things [in Danny] that I related to.” However, Paunovic’s physique and experience as a boxer is the perfect combination for the mercurial Danny. He commits himself to the role of Danny bringing his experience as a boxer and screen-fight choreographer to both the physical and emotional sides of his performance.
His knockout performance is matched by Lori Triolo’s portrayal of Roberta. An experienced stage and screen actor, Triolo garnered a Jessie Award nomination in 2008 for The Sweetest Swing in Baseball. The experience she brings to the stage is evident as she realizes Roberta changeable temperament and physicality.
That the two characters (and actors) are so matched — in brokenness, in humor, in honesty — is what makes the performance. In an interview after the show Paunovic, a former boxing champion, equated the relationship between Roberta and Danny to boxing. “I get the same nerves,” he says about going on stage to perform. “It feels like the ring.”
The audience sits on two facing sides of a very intimate stage, an arrangement that makes it feel like one is, in fact, watching a boxing match. This theatre space creates a charged environment that highlights some of the most compelling moments in the performance: the little things. The victories of both performances were in the little things: the set of Roberta’s jaw as she speaks of her past, Danny’s clenched fists as he tries to rein in his anger, the tender caresses, flying spittle and sexual energy that flies between the two actors.
Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, is playing at Pacific Theatre until February 4th and is one of two pieces by John Patrick Shanley that Pacific Theatre is putting on this year. Shanley is known for his range of work both for the stage and film including Moonstruck, Alive and Joe Verses The Volcano. Pacific theatre’s next main stage performance is Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winner Doubt, A Parable; which will be directed by Pacific Theatre’s Creative Director Ron Reed.