Review: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Sterling Studio Theatre)

Hooking up love and loneliness in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Drake’s old recording studio in Toronto

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is performed in a new theatre space that was formerly Drake’s recording studio. It contains strong language and sexual content, and was written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony and Emmy Award-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley. And that’s just my teaser.

The play is intense. While it may be about “two of society’s rejects,” we’ve all, to some extent, been there – to the depths and highs of making love and making war. So it becomes, as good theatre does, an exploration of the self. But it is intense, and also extremely harsh.

First about the space, which is small, unexpected and lovely. Hidden away in the heavily hyped part of town called the Junction, the individualized chairs, brick walls and bottles-in-a-bin bar make for a welcoming venue. Though I do wonder what the audience will do when the cold weather hits. There is no front-of-house; the washrooms are down the lane-way and up the stairs.

Written about 30 years ago, the three-act play is dedicated “to everyone in the Bronx who punched me or kissed me, and to everyone whom I punched or kissed.” That’s the playwright speaking.

The first act opens up in a rundown bar in the Bronx where Danny (Drew Nelson) and Roberta (Kerri Smith) come to know one another over beer and coarse language. The repartee reminded me, oddly enough, of Boy Meets Girl in Free to Be You and Me. Maybe because we’re like that, trying to define ourselves when it’s so obvious to others.

Which in this case is a down-and-out single guy who doesn’t much like himself and punches out anyone who crosses his line of vision. And a divorced mom who has a past she can’t let go of, which blocks her path to love.

Except that on this one evening she does want love. And the remainder of the play is an exploration of how to get there; how to open ourselves up to genuine intimacy; what are the possibilities of moving on?

Nelson and Smith put forth passionate characters, with convincing Bronx accents and a solid sense of where they’re coming from. Yes, it’s a scary world out there. But just as scary are the things going on in our heads.

Though I was a tad thrown by Nelson’s Calvin Klein boxers (In the Bronx? In 1984?). And I wished for a few more decent props (A real bed, perhaps?).

Mostly, I left this faraway new theatre in a part of Toronto I rarely visit, thinking how spectacular it is that we have companies mounting such classics.

And if the movie The Words, currently in theatres, is criticized for its lousy screenplay, then this production, built on great writing, will sustain you with words, storyline, acting, and most importantly, reflections on one of life’s basics: how to make love and how to make war.


– Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is playing at Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling, unit 5) till September 22, 2012.
– Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm from Sept 12-22, 2012.
– Tickets are $15.
– Tickets are available online

Photo of Drew Nelson and Kerri Smith by Angela Besharah at Inside Light Studio Photography