by R. S. Stewart

“Tightly knit and heartbreaking,” says director Jeff Sanders of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Verona Studio Theatre’s final play of the current season. The play is by John Patrick Shanley, who won the Pultizer Prize in Drama for Doubt, later made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymore Hoffman. Shanley also won an Oscar for his screenplay of Moonstruck starring Cher.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, says director Jeff Sanders of this two-character play now in rehearsal, is the story of two “battered and bruised” individuals searching for love, with “forgiveness, hope, and redemption” as three of its most searing themes. He describes the characters as “sweet, funny, and moving.”

Danny and Roberta, both escaping pasts filled with violence, brutality, and raw depleted emotions, meet in a Bronx bar and yearn for touch, in spite of being “inarticulate, dangerous, and vulnerable.” Although the play is dark in tone, it has moments of humor as the two learn to trust each other. It is a realistic piece of theatre in its emotional drive, which Sanders is emphasizing. The characters “come together quickly, then just as quickly break apart.”

Music by Lou Reed accompanies this production, giving it a very late 1970s, early 1980s atmosphere. The play was first produced in New York in 1984. The set is minimal, true to the author’s explanation that only those “scenic elements necessary to the action should be on stage. Only those areas that are played should be lit.” The most striking part of the set will be a huge deep blue wall the same rich color as the sea of the title.

Danny is played by Justin Wanner, whose last role was Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s tragedy at McNary High School, a profoundly complex role that would prepare any actor for any emotion, any level of discovery. Roberta is played by Hannah Alice Pattersen, who appeared recently in Time Stood Still at Keizer Homegrown Theatre. Both of them appeared in the film You Are Another, recently shown at Salem Cinema.

Now in their sixth week of rehearsal, both actors say that they reached their characters’ emotional levels by realizing that Danny and Roberta are “whole human beings” in spite of their broken pasts and spirits.

Recreating characters different from themselves, Wanner and Pattersen say, is challenging but also a revelation in that all humans share a large spectrum of emotions. Pattersen cites the scene in the play when Roberta refers to the metaphoric title, describing a dream of whales in the ocean coming to surface, exciting her “to realize that nothing is as it seems on the surface, that under the water is a wild and terrifying life.”

This is Jeff Sanders’s first directorial production at Verona, although not at Pentacle, where he last directed Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. He has also been on stage performing in approximately 25 productions and directing 9, as well as taking on numerous jobs backstage. He is proud to have been made a Lifetime Member of Pentacle. He appeared last at Verona on stage in Dead Man’s Cell Phone.                                                                                                 Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is in three scenes and runs for approximately 70 minutes without an intermission. It opens on May 5th and runs through May 21st. Check the website for times and ticket prices.