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Theater review: 'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea' at Crown City Theatre

October 26, 2011 |  4:25 pm

'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea' at Crown City Theatre
"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," that audition-scene staple, has hardly accrued profound fathoms since its 1984 premiere with June Stein and John Turturro. Yet John Patrick Shanley's breakout exercise about two damaged outcasts who discover redemption in a Bronx dive can still pack a punch, which the bracing Crown City Theatre revival delivers.

Subtitled "An Apache Dance," Shanley's two-hander is a foul-mouthed romantic fairy tale with bloody knuckles -- David Mamet meets Beth Henley on Budweiser. From first sight of deadpan Roberta (Juliet Landau) scoping out explosive Danny (Matthew J. Williamson), it's not a question of whether this life-ravaged pair -- possibly homicidal truck driver, potentially suicidal single mom  -- will connect, but when, provided they don't kill each other en route.

Fortunately, director John McNaughton controls the near-surreal tone with a straightforward touch that heightens the humor and grabs us by the throat. He benefits from inventive-on-a-dime designers and, barring one still-gelling scene change, maintains forward momentum without driving the pile.

As for Landau and Williamson, their attuned chemistry is a pleasure to witness. Although her dancer's grace and Elaine May-as-Vogue model features aren't exactly downtrodden, Landau inhabits Roberta, at once scabrous and delicate, to hilarious and touching effect. Williamson turns his linebacker's physicality and halting voice into pure assets as Danny, the singsong nattering and veiled eyes giving way to jolting rage, then unforced sweetness.

Given the scenery-chewing options that Shanley presents, the nuance they achieve and bathos they avoid is endearing and impressive. It elevates the text, and designates "Danny" as a company watershed.

-- David C. Nichols

"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," Crown City Theatre at St. Matthew's Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 18. $25. (818) 605-5685 or Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Photo: Juliet Landau, left, and Matthew J. Williamson. Credit: Deverill Weekes.