John Patrick Shanley’s 1983 play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, is in part about exploration. The two-hander depicts the passionate meeting of two lonely people whose communication skills have been substantially damaged. Danny (Gareth O’Connor) resorts to anger and violence in social situations where he feels vulnerable or out of control, while Roberta (Megan Lloyd-Jones) is hindered by past trauma that leaves her emotionally immature. Through each other, they discover facets of themselves that help them develop new ways of connecting, of sharing, and of being intimate.
The distinct register of Shanley’s play and its poetic perspective on two Bronx natives gives it an understated but heartfelt resonance, enveloped in gruff grunts, brash insults and fisticuffs. It’s romantic, yes, but the romance is predicated on the surprise, relief, and guilt felt by both characters that they are even capable of love.
Theatre N16’s production works hard to colour in Shanley’s complex portraits, but at times its uses too broad strokes and at others no strokes at all. The bar in the Bronx, where Danny and Roberta first meet, is too sparse and too silent and gives no indication of an outside world. Given that such a world is exactly what has compelled both characters to seek refuge, it’s worth hinting at. While their being isolated is crucial for their ability to connect to each other, that isolation is most deeply felt when there is a sense of the world around them. Roberta’s room, for instance, a bed far downstage and well cluttered, gives no evidence of the rest of the house bustling around them and the responsibilities that she is currently sidestepping.
Without this grounding, Lloyd-Jones and O’Connor have to work extra hard. At the beginning, they push through the laboured conversation but are unable to unearth the humour and charm of this first meeting. Both performances improve, and they excel in the ping pong-like back-and-forths that might be flirting but might just be slip-ups. O’Connor is gruff and husky as Danny, and Lloyd-Jones is likeable as Roberta, and each do a commendable job. But they never fully find the chemistry with each other, and the play suffers for it.
There are some strange directorial choices as well. Between scenes, O’Connor and Lloyd-Jones perform some provocative choreography that jars with the tone of the scenes and interrupts the pace of the play. It neither offers an sufficient alternative medium of portraying their story, nor does it provide any additional insight into how they feel about each other. If anything, the choreography reduces their relationship to obvious images that go against the complexity inherent in the text.
Richly drawn and resonant, it’s no surprise that Shanley’s play has resurfaced (the last production in London being at Southwark Playhouse in 2011). Here however, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is only explored to surface level, leaving its depths still to be discovered.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is on until 24th June 2017 at the Old Red Lion. Click here for more details.