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’DEEP’ DRAMA

Gut-wrenching staging of an early Shanley work in Williamsburg

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Charlie Pineapple Theater Company is located on a quiet street in Williamsburg. The theater seats two dozen people and has no fancy stage trappings. But if the company’s latest production, "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," is any indication, it is here that you may see some of the best drama this side of the East River, or perhaps the Mississippi.

"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" was the first published play of John Patrick Shanley, a native New Yorker best known for his screenplay of the 1987 film, "Moonstruck," which starred Cher and Nicolas Cage.

"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" was originally presented as a staged reading at the 1983 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. It received its professional premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville in February 1984, and in June 1984, it opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York City.

The play is subtitled "An Apache Dance." Originated by Parisian ruffians, this dance is performed as a violent confrontation between two people.

In "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," the confrontation is between Roberta (Sue Ball) and Danny (Ian Kerch), two violent and depressed borderline psychotics who meet at a bar at a time in their lives when they might otherwise have jumped into the abyss.

From the moment the lights go up on Danny and Roberta drinking beer at their separate tables, director Mark VanDerBeets keeps a steady tension going. In fact, the unrelenting misery of these two outcasts who are trapped in their own guilt and fury is so overpowering during the first half-hour of the play, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to get up and walk out.

Do not give in to this temptation!

The anxiety produced by the play is directly proportional to the rewards of watching it through to the end.

Danny and Roberta are not people most of us would like to know. Danny is a paranoid truck driver who is known as the "Beast" thanks to his constant brawling. He believes he may have killed his last victim after repeatedly punching him in the face and finally stomping on his chest. He sometimes feels he is choking, his heart is failing, and he is dying. He longs for peace.

Roberta is 31 and the mother of a 13-year-old who, she admits, is "messed up." She has committed incest with her father (whom she hates) mostly as a way to curry favor and exert power. She still lives in her parents’ home, and although she thinks her mother is unaware of her unnatural activities with her father, she insists that her mother’s eyes follow her wherever she goes. She feels she cannot escape, but she longs for romance and a caring touch.

Roberta and Danny speak the vulgar, disturbed language that rises from the gutter and the depth of their anguish.

Ball and Kerch perform magnificently in roles that are undeniably exhausting. Except for a few brief moments between the bar scene and the scene in Roberta’s bedroom, where she eventually convinces Danny to make love to her, they are never offstage. Much of this time is spent cursing, striking, sobbing and throwing objects. The emotional energy is tremendous - and miraculously, always under perfect control. (Hats off to VanDerBeets here, too.)

But perhaps most inspiring to watch is the way Ball and Kerch take their characters through the painful stages to what turns out to be (beautifully and believably) a simple love story.

One reason "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" is so disconcerting may be that it brings out the demons we all harbor: loneliness, isolation, fear and the memories and dreams we try to keep from the light of day. Surely what makes it so rewarding is the inexorable road to salvation it presents - a road that is paved with forgiveness and hope.

 


"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" plays through Dec. 6, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 9 pm at the Charlie Pineapple Theater, 248B North Eighth St., between Roebling and Havemeyer streets, in Williamsburg. Tickets are $12. For reservations, call (718) 907-0577.

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