by Lynn on December 7, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

At the Brockton Collective Studio, 442a Dufferin St. north of Queen, Toronto. Written by John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Aaron Willis. Set by Jay Pooley. Costumes by Alyksandra Ackerman. Lighting by Jennifer Lennon. Sound by Gordon Hyland.  Starring Brooke Morgan and Mark Wiebe.

Produced by Baro Theatre Company. Plays until Dec. 15.

There’s a whole lot of fearless going on in indie theatre companies of late, as both new and established companies produce challenging plays, with terrific results. In October Bob Kills Theatre produced a compelling production of John Patrick Shanley’s play, Savage in Limbo, about a group of lost souls trying to make it through a boozy night. In November, Theatre Gargantua created an imaginative and gripping production of their original piece called The Sacrifice Zone, about a community coping with a devastating disaster. Red One Theatre Collective produced a thrilling production of Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie about sex, class and ambition.

The latest company to join this fearless list is the new Baro Theatre Company and its recent production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley (popular playwright, he).

We are in familiar Shanley territory; a bar in the Bronx. A woman sits along at the bar, nursing a beer. An angry hulk of a man lumbers in, agitated. He sits by himself with a pitcher of beer. The woman starts a conversation with him. He’s sullen, gives one word answers and is not interested in talking. He has a chip on his shoulder that seems to be forming into an inoperable lump. He will pick a fight with anyone if he thinks they are looking at him funny. His knuckles are raw-red from some recent encounters.

She persists in chatting him up. She’s had her own issues. She’s a single mother who got pregnant at 18 and whose father made her get married. It didn’t last. She’s divorced with a son who is now 13 and difficult. She lives with her parents who take care of the boy. She’s done terrible things and tells him one of them. She’s feisty, at times belligerent, and coy.  By now she’s at his table and he’s talking, but, man, is he in a rage about everything, and he’s dangerous with that rage.

The woman is Roberta and the man is Danny. Roberta takes Danny home, up the back way to her bedroom where her parents won’t see her or him. The unlikeliest thing happens with this most unlikely of couples—tenderness, romance in a way, and love.

No one knows this misfit terrain, a Bronx bar and marginalized people, like Shanley. He writes about the lower level of society.  He knows about people so pent up with angry they will explode if they don’t let it out. In the case of Danny that means punching out someone or three until they are a bloody mess. In the case of Roberta she takes Danny home for a quickie one-night-stand and that would be it. But Danny has other ideas.

In Shanley’s world there are no neat, simple endings. They are rough, hard won, fragile and true. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a roller coater ride of emotions for Roberta and Danny. When you think it will end well Shanley puts a wrench in the proceedings. When you think things are turning bad, he throws another curve. Every single turn in the story is true, honest and right. He’s a terrific writer who can look into the dark, sad heart of the walking wounded and make us care deeply for them.

Stepping up to the plate to do this play proud is the brand new Baro Theatre Company headed by Brooke Morgan who also plays Roberta. Mark Wiebe plays Danny and Aaron Willis directs. Willis has a sure, confident director’s hand and guides the production with sensitivity, intense physicality when it calls for it, and an overall grace that gently takes the audience into this world, grips them, and doesn’t let them go until the very last clap of applause.

As Roberta, Brooke Morgan is wily, coy, seductive, aggressive, tenacious, tender, insecure, and all manner of emotions that keep her stuck in her own wheel-spinning world.

As Danny, Mark Wiebe seems to have a constant scowl and clenched fists, ready to punch out anyone who insults him or who he imagines insults him. You cross the street to avoid this kind of guy. Everything about him hurts. He hates to be touched. And yet these two lost souls find each other and won’t let the other go when one wants to leave. The world changes for them subtly, gradually and with nuance.

For such an in-your-face writer, Shanley is just as accomplished when being tender, gentle and open-hearted.

Baro Theatre Company is a new fearless theatre company to watch. Seeing their dandy production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea before it closes Dec. 15 is a great way to start.

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