I am particularly fond of site-specific venues. They have a very real, established life before and after performance, and so create a thoroughly lived-in, immersive ambiance where the drama feels almost incidental. The Monarch Tavern offers just the right textures and vibe to draw you in to LOVE2 Theatre Company’s inaugural show: John Patrick Shanley’s fierce two-hander Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.
Two angry, lonely misfits meet late one night in a seedy Bronx bar. Danny, his face bruised and his hands bloodied, seems ready to slam his fist into a wall or a face at the slightest provocation. He’s the sort most would sensibly avoid, but he’s met his match in Roberta, a woman so fed up with herself she’ll recklessly tempt fate in the hope of finding some human connection.
Even before the dramatic fireworks start, there is a quiet, charged energy in the air. They poke and prod each other, testing their own and each other’s boundaries in a rough and harrowing courtship ritual. It isn’t long before guilt and shame rise violently to the surface. As they grind away at their rough edges, vulnerabilities are laid bare. In a moment of passionate desperation, they cling to each other and head off to Roberta’s cramped, though very cozy, bedroom.
After sex, their dynamic shifts from provocation to tender, offbeat banter as they awkwardly mimic conventional romance. There is sweet humour in their fumbling yet sincere attempts at flattery and affection. And Shanley’s script finds poetry in colloquial, sometimes vulgar, conversation.
Jennifer McEwen and Justin Otto have intense, fiery chemistry. Even when their words or behaviour is nasty and menacing, there is always heat between them. As I’ve come to expect, there is no apparent artifice in David Lafontaine’s sure and steady direction, no clever embellishments to distract from the authentic and compelling illusion of life.
When Danny and Roberta take their spontaneous, romantic leap, they seem to exist in a world of make-believe that doesn’t quite line up with our reality. Both Shanley and his characters are aware of this and address it directly: “just because something seems make-believe, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” In the world of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, dreams and reality can be reconciled through sheer determination.
As dubius as I am with the trope of alienated misfits coming together to find their perfect misfit love, I can buy into it here. When these bristly characters focus their chaotic energies on each other and a potential life, rather than self-abuse and outward anger, my cynicism dries up and I find myself rooting wholeheartedly for them.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea gives us two tormented, self-absorbed delinquents and somehow makes them endearing. Grab a drink, find a comfy spot at The Monarch Tavern, and see how even the least likely among us can find some genuine solace in human companionship.
Runs from May 30 to June 8, 2019
At The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St.)
Visit the show page for tickets and info