At first glance, it would seem that two people couldn’t be more different. Danny is a violent truck driver who often gets into fights, while Roberta is dangerously emotional.
The two meet in a seedy bar, where they have gone as a last resort to escape from their dead-end lives. The result is a play that is both comic and violent.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is the first play that was written by John Patrick Shanley, who many consider the hottest playwright working today. It will be presented, first at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Jenkins Blackbox Theater, then at The Sentient Bean, by Fowl Brick Theatre and Studio West Productions.
The parts of Danny and Roberta are played by Chris Brickhouse and Tosha Fowler. “It was first produced in 1984,” Fowler says. “John Patrick Shanley won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Doubt, which is on Broadway. He’s pretty hot right now. He’s on everybody’s to-do list.”
Shanley also won an Academy Award for the screenplay of Moonstruck in 1987. His other plays include Four Dogs and a Bone, The Italian American Reconciliation and Sailor’s Song.
This is the second production from Fowl Brick Theatre Company and Studio West Productions. Fowler is a native of Savannah who graduated from AASU, while Brickhouse is a native of St. Mary’s.
“I was working at two different theater companies in Atlanta when I ran into Chris,” Fowler says. “We decided to do a play called Cop Out. We needed a theater company name.”
Brickhouse combined their last names to come up with Fowl Brick Theatre. “We thought it was funny,” Fowler says.
Audiences thought Brickhouse and Fowler were funny, too. “Cop Out had a three-night run at The Sentient Bean,” Fowler says. “By Saturday, it was sold-out, with wall-to-wall people. Jane Fishman did a review of the show and liked it. That spurred us on to even further projects.”
The show has been in pre-production since January and Brickhouse and Fowler have been rehearsing for six weeks. “It’s like nothing Savannah has ever seen before,” Fowler says.
“This is a bona fide professional production, with professional actors directed by a professional director,” she says. “Everyone who has worked on it is a professional.”
The production is being directed by Toby Thelin, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School at the Playwrights Horizons Theatre. He has directed many projects in New York City and has performed Off-Broadway with the Bread and Puppet Theatre. Since moving to Savannah, he has directed several local productions.
Studio West Productions was founded by Martell Stroup, who holds a degree in furniture design and who will receive a master’s degree in film from the Savannah College of Art and Design this summer. He has owned his own theater company and directed several plays.
Stroup also has written several scripts, including Act One, which won the award for best play at the Savannah Playwrights Festival in 2002.
“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is his favorite play,” Fowler says. “The story itself is everyone’s story. Danny and Roberta meet in a bar because they can’t stand being where they are any more. Roberta is 31 and has a child, but still lives at home with her parents. She’s stuck and she’s lonely. There‘s a real need for human connection.”
That connection is found when Roberta meets Danny. “They end up talking,” Fowler says.
At first, talking isn’t easy. “John Patrick Shanley says both are articulate, yet they’re yearning to speak,” Fowler says.
“They’re not used to talking a whole lot,” she says. “They don’t know how to communicate. Their conversation is hilarious and at the same time brutal.”
Life has not turned out the way Roberta and Danny had hoped it would. “A lot of people when they’re older want things ideally to be the way they were when they were growing up,” Fowler says.
“Things aren’t at all what they wanted them to be,” she says. “They want to go back to when they still had dreams. That’s what Danny and Roberta try to do.”
There is violence in the play, as well as adult language, so it is geared toward mature audiences only. Yet the play also is humorous and tender.
“It’s really beautiful and very hopeful,” Fowler says. “The whole time John Patrick Shanley is witting, there’s always a joke somewhere.”
Fowler says she’s encountered real Dannys and Robertas in life. “I’ve bartended on and off to support myself as an actor,” she says. “You really do see a lot of people like that. They’ve become disillusioned with life.”
But with Shanley at the helm, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is never morose or maudlin. “John Patrick Shanley is known for his dialogue, which is very believable dialogue,” Fowler says.
“I know I’ve said the same things these characters have said,” she says. “It always rings true.”
This production continues Fowl Brick’s mission of presenting the unexpected.
“With Cop Out, we promised something people had never seen before,” Fowler says. “Cop Out was very avant garde, but people were coming to see it, then returning and bringing friends with them.”
The second production isn’t anything like the first.
“Danny is very raw and real,” Fowler says. “You look at these characters and say, ‘Oh my God, I know these people.’”
Fowl Brick Theatre and Studio West Productions present Danny and the Deep Blue Sea Thursday, May 4 through Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Jenkins Blackbox Theater. The play also will be presented Friday, May 12 through Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m. at The Sentient Bean. It is recommended for mature audiences only. Cost is a recommended donation of $7. For tickets or information, call 235-4414.