By Eric J. Grimm
Amy Winehouse’s cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” plays before and after spit&vigor’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s 1983 play Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, currently playing at Under St. Marks. It’s an appropriate choice of song: the play takes place over an evening in which two troubled characters meet and fall in love and continues on to the following morning as they attempt to reconcile their strong feelings for each other with their own personal demons. Winehouse herself was a tragic figure who could not overcome her passion for reckless living. Shanley’s characters are more fortunate owing to the writer’s sympathy for them but that makes them considerably less compelling. The new production’s actors are committed as they face the difficult challenge of overcoming Shanley’s mawkish early work.
Danny (Adam Belvo) finds his seeming soulmate Roberta (Sara Fellini) at a deserted Bronx bar the night after a particularly brutal fight. Danny’s used to getting into fights and Roberta has known her own fair share of violence and disappointment. Both are not shy about sharing their terrible misfortunes as a way of repelling and attracting each other. An intense beginning unravels as the two reveal their insecurities and proceed to go back and forth as to whether or not they can make their relationship work. These violent white trash creations suggest that Shanley’s ripping off Sam Shepard and poorly at that. There’s a nasty lyricism to Shepard’s work that Shanley misses in favor of a gooey sentimentality. Director Pat Diamond might have done better to rough up the work a little bit but he mostly lets the script do the driving.
Belvo and Fellini do fine Bronx accent work, never falling into caricature. Belvo rises to the challenge in Danny’s scariest moments, appearing as though his veins might burst as he threatens to hurt Roberta early on. He’s not as convincing when Danny becomes a weeping mess but it’s such a jarring and unbelievable shift in Shanley’s writing. Fellini nails certain moments in which Roberta feels trapped by her poverty and abusive home life, alternately deepening her voice to express rage and making her voice small to convey her insignificance. Less effective is her physical embodiment of the character; her gestures are sharp and feel choreographed in an intimate setting. Fellini is an accomplished playwright who has written complex and compelling characters for herself and Belvo and Shanley’s ill-formed characters are not the right vessels to showcase their talents.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is playing at Under St. Marks (94 St. Marks Pl.) through December 19th. For tickets visit http://www.spitnvigor.com/#!now-playing/wfj9f.