Theater Review — Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Local actors at the tiny Heather Theatre deliver a hugely emotional experience.
Unexpectedly nestled away in a bleak, gray plaza full of office spaces on W. Hillsborough Ave., The Heather Theatre is a 35-seat, non-profit professional theatre company.
Founded by Kathryn Laughlin, the intimate space donates a percentage of ticket sales, donations and concession sales to local charities, depending on the subject matter of each performance.
There was not an empty seat in the room on Sat., April 11, as John Patrick Shanley’s widely performed Danny and the Deep Blue Sea made its way to the Heather stage. Shanley also wrote (and won an Academy Award for) 1987’s Moonstruck, and wrote/directed the critically lauded film adaptation of his play Doubt (2008), which starred Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.
Directed by Dahlia Legault — an actress who got her start in Tampa and has recently appeared on AMC’s The Walking Dead — the 75-minute production fittingly lacked an intermission. It is the rare kind of material that you would hate to tear yourself away from, even if you desperately needed a bathroom break.
Danny opens in a deserted, dark dive bar in the Bronx in the early ‘90s. With a neon “Bar” sign hanging side-stage, the appropriately sparse set included only wooden chairs, a table, bar and bar stools. Roberta, played by K.D. O’Hair, sits at the bar, picking pretzels out of a bowl and smashing them on the bar surface. On the opposite side of the stage, Danny (played by Vincenzo Hinckley) slouches in a chair at the table, pouring himself mug after mug of beer, his knuckles and face visibly bruised.
After several exchanged glances and nearly a minute of silence, broken only by the sound of Roberta’s pretzel smashing and Danny’s mug slamming, the two dive into a scattered round of banter. It quickly evolves into a battle of who can out-crazy the other.
Adorned in distinctively ‘90s get-ups (Danny in jeans, a white tank-top and opened button up, and Roberta in black combat boots, shorts and a denim button up), Danny speaks candidly about his penchant for fighting when Roberta asks about his bruises. Still sitting at opposite ends of the bar, the two take turns spilling intimate, sad details about their lives — Danny about his failed relationships and aggression, Roberta about her failed marriage, teenage pregnancy and hatred of her father.
From the moment she opened her mouth, O’Hair was pure magic. She fully inhabited the character of Roberta — her New York accent was executed flawlessly, and she perfectly straddled the line between hostility and vulnerability. She’s certainly tough and a little scary, but (somehow) completely endearing.
Physically, Hinckley is an ideal candidate to play Danny — dark, gruff and handsome, he captures Danny’s hostile nature during the bar scene. Still, it was difficult peel my eyes away from O’Hair. Her dynamic portrayal of Roberta eclipsed everything in her midst.
After revealing their most intimate secrets and becoming physically aggressive with each other in the bar, the two spend the night together in Roberta’s apartment. She tells Danny, “We are gonna love each other.”
The stage lighting was darkened, but no curtain closed. O’Hair and Hinckley moved the set to create a bedroom by putting a comforter and pillows on the wooden bar table and taking off their own clothes, stripping down to a pair of briefs and a small nightgown.
When the lights came back up, the two are lying in bed after a night of intimacy. Roberta goes to the nightstand to light a candle, and (unexpectedly) she drops a lit match on the stage. Without breaking character, the two actors responded to the accident humorously.
“I could’ve killed us both!” O’Hair improvised. She must have actually meant that she could’ve burnt down the entire theater.
This unscripted incident (which they confessed after curtain) worked to the actors' advantage. Their trust was put to the test, and they prevailed. Both played off of one another’s improvisation seamlessly. Hinckley became especially relaxed after the incident. His performance for the rest of the play greatly improved, as he became more uninhibited and honest.
O’Hair remained hypnotizing during the scene. She performed using every inch of her body, even girlishly curling her toes during Roberta’s vulnerable, playful moments. It was frighteningly good.
Although there is very little blocking and the play is almost entirely rooted in dialogue, it would be misleading to say that Roberta and Danny ever have a conversation. They just take turns delivering scattered, unrelated anecdotes (Roberta speaks about watching whales jump out of the sea, and immediately after, Danny describes a lovely wedding he once attended).
Despite the scattered nature of the dialogue, the interaction is pivotal in understanding who Danny and Roberta are. They speak to one another as if it has been years since they have divulged anything to another human — everything just spills out.
Both characters are the type of people to bottle up their most trivial memories and their deepest thoughts until they truly trust someone. Danny and Roberta’s meeting allowed them to finally excavate the secrets that had been poisoning them. Both seek forgiveness and softness, and they set each other free.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea's climax is absolutely heart wrenching (I actually felt a physical pain in my chest). It is a moment that is deeply cathartic for the characters, actors and audience (I overheard a man leaving the theater say that her cried twice).
O’Hair and Hinckley delivered performances so genuine, so big, it felt as if the walls of the tiny Heather Theatre were ready to burst open at any moment.