by Jay Gipson-King
The Verona Studio dives deep to uncover an unlikely romance between two broken people in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, directed by Jeff Sanders.
Written by John Patrick Shanley, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea brings together Danny, a young man with anger issues, and Roberta, a woman with a troubling self-image. Danny believes he has killed a man; Roberta has committed an unspeakable act. They both suffer from unbearable guilt, and this burden—and the hope of solace—brings them together.
The play is named for Danny, but it is Roberta’s story. It is she who initiates the action and drives the plot, and it is the performance by Hannah Alice Patterson that draws the eye. I have seen Patterson twice before in smaller roles, at Pentacle and Keizer Homegrown, and she absolutely pops out of the cast. It is a pleasure to finally see her in a part with real depth and stage time—one-half of this intimate two-hander. As Roberta, Patterson is bold, fearless, and sly. I don’t know if her Bronx accent is authentic, but it is certainly enjoyable. My only complaint is that in certain key moments, she lacks vulnerability. This seems small, but it is important. Her choices make sense by the end of the play, but they lack a layer of nuance.
McNary alumnus Justin Wanner turns in a strong performance as Danny, although he is not quite as charismatic as Patterson. He carries Danny’s anger (and affection) right on the surface, which is appropriate for this character, but he lacks an edge of real danger (perhaps a compliment to Roberta’s invulnerability).
Director Jeff Sanders is more often seen treading the boards, but his directing here is tight, interesting, and high energy. He easily finds the beats of the piece and highlights the key moments. The play clocks in at just over an hour, leaving plenty of time for a drink around the corner.
This play was shocking in its original time, 1983, for its graphic content and language. It is less shocking now. To be clear—there is still adult content and strong language, but ultimately, the play is full of heart. It is much closer to Shanley’s short play about first love, The Red Coat, than to the moral and political thriller Doubt. The play loves these two thoroughly flawed, messed up people, brought to life by two fine performances. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea plays through May 21.
Elsewhere in the Valley:
• Drop Dead! Family farce at Keizer Homegrown Theatre. May 12–28.
• The Little Mermaid, at SKIT Theatre. May 13–21.
• Things My Mother Taught Me, at Aumsville Community Theatre, through May 22.
“‘They seek him here, they seek him there,” Jay Gipson-King is a local educator and theatre artist, and Salem Weekly’s Salem Pimpernel. Keep up with Jay and see the full list of area auditions and performances at facebook.com/SalemTheatreNetwork.