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DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Tight & Shiny Productions
at Cafe Voltaire

It doesn't look promising at first. Roberta sits curled up into a tight little knot at her table, chin tucked truculently into her collarbones, attention riveted on the bottom of her beer mug. Danny is draped like a bar rag over his table, oblivious to the wounds he's recently received in an alley brawl the cause of which he does not remember, staring morosely into his beer mug and occasionally stealing a glance through his eyebrows at the rest of the world. Eventually these two speak, but it doesn't get much better. They don't like each other. They don't like their parents, with whom they still live though they're both near 30. They don't like themselves much either. Danny punches walls in inarticulate frustration. Roberta punches herself. Both have loved little and lost much and neither is going to chance making the same mistakes again. But out of this manure patch, on this warm Bronx night, romance will flourish and souls will be saved--with fists, if necessary.

The road to true love doesn't run smooth, of course. To begin with, Roberta has to bully Danny into coming home with her. There in her room, however, illuminated by the lantern over the pigeon coop on the next-door roof, with the mournful sounds of boats putting out to sea on the East River only 20 blocks away, this unlikely pair discuss the perfect wedding: "Everybody's throwing rice--not throwing hard, of course--and nobody who we don't like will be invited, only strangers will be there." In the cold light of dawn, however, it's Danny's turn to bully Roberta into thinking that she just might deserve such happiness. By hook or by crook, by fucking or fighting, by psychobabble rendered somehow fresh by a primitive urban poetry ("You got friendly ears"), love fuckin' goes and conquers all, goddamnit.

John Patrick Shanley has never to the marriage of true minds admitted impediments, and his Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is no exception. Despite what we know of what happens to old romantics (you know, the ones who call at 3 AM to cry about how the glass slipper turned out to be the wrong size) and the caveats of social workers who regard the merger of two neurotics as a folie a deux, Tight & Shiny's production manages to convince us that all these two overaged kids really need is love.

Much of the show's success is due to the actors' sensitive performances and copious charm: Tim Sullens, usually cast as a buttoned-up brain boy, has a rip-roaring good time belching, crying, and boxing shadows as the stumble-footed Danny, and Deanna Shoemaker as Roberta displays an engaging feistiness reminiscent of the young Jane Fonda. Credit also goes to director Carri Coffman for keeping the pacing unhurried and the dialect clean, and to fight coach Frank Dominelli for his delicate handling of Danny and Roberta's ritual combat--which has nothing to do with domestic violence, where the purpose is intimidation of the weaker party by the stronger. In ritual combat the two opponents are equally matched and neither intends any real harm to the other. To further distance Danny and Roberta's scuffling from anything resembling abuse, Dominelli has Roberta initiate the fisticuffs.

As in his screenplay for Moonstruck, Shanley in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea creates a sense of giddy optimism in the midst of the most cynical environment. We in the real world know that happiness never comes this easy, of course, but that doesn't stop us from leaving the theater certain that, 20 or 30 years from now, Danny and Roberta will still be living happily ever after.

FRANK'S CORNER

at Sheffield's School Street Cafe

The title character of Frank's Corner hails from over the Hudson, in East Jersey--Charles Bukowski country, socially if not geographically. Indeed, Frank could be that blue-collar bard's kid brother: he's the one whose entire social life revolves around the neighborhood watering hole, who says hello to all the regulars but always sits alone at the end of the bar, who never gets the raise, the joke, or the girl, and whose loutish manners and wuhkin' clyaaass accent will keep him forever mired in the mud hole where we find him but who speaks a poetry forged from concrete and steel and yearning. "The other guy's life look so good, you want to walk up to him and say, 'Come on, fork it over' . . . instead, you think that if maybe you went up to him and held him real tight, real close, his life could be yours."

The material in Frank's Corner is uneven--for every knockout punch like the epic jump-roping dream sequence there's a three-hankie tearjerker like the tale of his little sister's death or too much grumbling over the women he won't have or who won't have him. It's not Frank's fault--nor that of Kevin McCoy, his creator--that he hasn't lived long enough (as a raconteur, anyway) to distinguish between archetype and cliche. A little more practice will cure this. In the meantime, McCoy looks to have much potential in his corner.

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