Danny and the Deep Blue Sea
Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Los Angeles Theatre Center
Through August 1.
Talk about site specific theater: Here’s a production of playwright John Patrick Shanley’s romantic standard that is immersive — literally.
After being directed by ticket staff to dawdle about on the patio of the Los Angeles Theater Center, a vaguely sinister “bouncer” shows up to whisk us through a secret door on the side of the theater complex, lurking directly by the entrance to the cat urine-redolent parking garage. Down we go two flights of stairs, through a creepy, blue-lit corridor, and then up another stairway. The rather long walk is unexpectedly unnerving — like we’re being taken some place where we might not be able to escape. Finally, we emerge into a cavernous gallery space, deep under the LATC complex, decorated like a punk-y 1980s night club.
Pat Benatar music thumps from the speakers and we seat ourselves as though in a café in ramshackle chairs and tables around the room. We can sit where we please — though one of the tables is occupied by lead actor Sofia Yepes, assaying the role of a soused-looking barfly waiting for last call. (Woe betide the audience member who sits down in the open chair next to the lady, though, one suspects.)
Shanley’s play depicts the unexpected hookup and subsequent, tentatively unfurling, delicate romance between a pair of damaged, brawling, but strangely vulnerable souls. Full of rage and self-loathing, Danny (Hugo Medina) is burying his sorrows in beer but finds himself chatting with lost soul Roberta (Yepes). The two wind up back at her place, where they gradually cross the gulf between the near insurmountable issues that have made both lifelong outcasts.
There have been many productions of Shanley’s now classic anti-romance – even the nightclub setting isn’t that new, and local theatergoers will recall one iteration performed on the floor of the Avalon nightclub not too many years ago. What makes director Fidel Gomez’s production so compelling and fresh, though, is a sense of urgency that suffuses the work, from the way that the performers wander through the audience during their conversations, to the deeply rooted line readings, which are full of bursts of anger and passion. At the same time, the intimacy of the staging gives additional poignancy to the delicate scenes in which they reach out to each other emotionally.
Medina plays borderline thug Danny as a sort of man-boy with a rage trigger that arises from his own feelings of personal inadequacy. It’s a peculiarly touching turn, with unexpected moments of softness, even bubbling underneath the anger. Depicting Roberta as a plain-jane, beaky Long Island drudge whose still waters run deep, Yepes is a delight — and the pair together demonstrate a striking chemistry together that is both passionate and perhaps a little disturbing. Special note also must be made of John Zalewski’s masterful sound design, consisting of equal parts wince-making 1980s hit playlist and eerie, echoey sounds recalling the characters’ moods and emotions.
Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles. Thurs.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 1. (213) 489-0994, http://thelatc.org