Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Danny' and the provocative night of theater

"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," which opened Thursday, May 30, at M&D Productions Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H., is an intense, dialogue-driven character study that, in its own way, is one of the most honest love stories you'll ever see.

Josh Lambert and Janette Kondrat star as Danny and Roberta, a pair of deeply flawed individuals who meet in a bar one night. They tentatively begin talking to each other and then don't stop.

They speak in an open and exposed manner for the first time in either of their lives. In the course of an evening and morning together they begin the long process of healing each others wounds.

The deep blue sea of the title is an obvious metaphor for the sea of despair that these characters have been desperately trying to keep their heads above. Each feel at any moment they could drown.

The play, written by John Patrick Shanley, who is best known for films like "Moonstruck" and play-turned-movie "Doubt," is almost a non-stop conversation that runs the emotional gamut. The dialogue in the first scene is nearly unremittingly tense and full of dark, traumatic secrets revealed by both characters. The second scene adds some levity as the budding couple attempt flirtation.

A break from the conversation only comes in the transition between scene one and two: a dance/sex scene choreographed by Johnathan Pina that is beautiful, violent, graphic and intimate. Be forewarned: there is nudity, but it is neither exploitative nor gratuitous.

The acting of the two leads is tremendous. Both performances are like exposed nerves with the raw emotions of each character always on the surface ready to explode.

Danny is always seething with anger and yet there is a gentleness under his seemingly beastly nature. Lambert is able to rage credibly, but the strength of his performance is the quieter, lightly comic moments as when he compliments Roberta's nose or when he admires a doll.

Roberta is a tormented soul who is unable to forgive herself for a secret from her past. She refuses to allow herself to move on, feeling that she must be punished. If no one else will punish her then, by her logic, she must do it herself.

Kondrat finds Roberta's pain in a way that doesn't feel contrived, false or manipulative. On the surface she makes Roberta sweet if removed from her surroundings, but this facade merely masks a simmering anger.

Lambert and Kondrat have a genuine chemistry and even though the characters have only known each other for a few hours, the actors make their sprouting love feel tangible and real. Most love stories are neat and perfectly packaged. That is not the case here. Shanley shows life with all its warts and imperfections, but also reminds that love can exist in a cruel world.

First-time director Eric Jordan has served his actors well and has done a wonderful job of shaping the delicate emotional landscape of this material. The show is just barely over an hour and that's perfect.

Jordan keeps the pacing of the dialogue fast, which is as it should be. Shanley dialogue doesn't need space to breathe. It needs to be compact and almost claustrophobic. These characters feel trapped. The dialogue must feel the same, as if it is trying to break free from the confines of the characters' minds.

Not everything is magically better in the conclusion, but, by the end, for the first time these characters have hope and that in itself is a powerful revelation for both the characters and the audience. Life is hard, but when you find someone to stand by you "I can't do it" can become "maybe I can."

"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" is playing Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks at Your Theatre. For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.