Whether by coincidence or design, that actor Aleks Paunovic lists boxing and music at the top of his bio for Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, currently on stage at Pacific Theatre, is certainly fitting given how simultaneously violent and lyrical Patrick Shanley’s play can be.
At a Bronx dive one night, Danny (Paunovic) and Roberta (Lori Triolo) are drawn to each other like moths to a flame. Two members of society’s fringe, they come with so much anger and hurt that any sense of hope is easily hidden behind a small pitcher of beer and a bowl of pretzels. Danny wants to blow his head off by the time he turns 30 (he’s 29 right now) and Roberta is so messed up herself she welcomes Danny’s hands around her neck.
Both Paunovic and Triolo give powerhouse performances as they physically and mentally assault each other and themselves over this quick 80 minutes. Even when we know that the two are going to hook-up at some point we are still shocked when it happens. Full of wonderful pauses and crescendos, Paunovic and Triolo attack Shanley’s words with such strength and understanding that like any train wreck you simply can’t look away, no matter how hard you want to. At times these two are quite literally animals as Triolo beats her chest like a baboon challenging a predator and Paunovic the lumbering croc that belies its strength and speed. As the tables turn though, Paunovic’s transformation into Danny’s gentler side is as heart-wrenching as his portrayal of Danny’s violent self.
In his directorial stage debut, Jason Goode keeps things uncomplicated knowing that it is about his actors and Shanley’s dialogue; the simple set and lighting allows us to enter this world without distraction.
Billed as “explosively funny”, I couldn’t help but think some of the laughs opening night came from a place of being uncomfortable with some of the play’s content. While it can be funny, the humour comes from a very dark place and I did not find it quite so side-splitting as some of the audience.
A perfect fit for Pacific Theatre’s small venue, this unlikely love story is gritty, real and heart-pounding. You’ll not only feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach but you’ll also walk away with a tiny sense of hope.
Thank god for second chances; a re-mounted production from 2010, don’t assume it’ll come around again next year. Go. Get punched.
By John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Jason Goode. A Pacific Theatre presentation of an Annunciation Pictures production. On stage at the Pacific Theatre through February 4, 2012. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.