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Review: NoExit's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea

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Justin Wade and Georgeanna Smith in NoExit's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at The Piccadilly Penthouse. - ZACH ROSING
  • Zach Rosing
  • Justin Wade and Georgeanna Smith in NoExit's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at The Piccadilly Penthouse.

NoExit Performance offered only three productions of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and since their venue was the Piccadilly Penthouse, only twenty people could attend each. I was curious about whether these limits would make the show artisanal or just gimmicky.

I also didn’t know anything about the play or the venue going in, so I was curious about them too. I didn’t care that the two actors — Justin Wade as Danny and Georgeanna Smith as Roberta — had recently gotten married in real life. Smith and director Michael Burke were destination artists for me already and I hoped Wade would be as good.

NoExit’s Mary Ferguson let me inside the Piccadilly’s locked lobby and checked my name off her list. I and the other audience members talked amongst ourselves while admiring the antique piano, the stacks of creaky books, and the old-timey prints on the walls. Residents came through carrying groceries and umbrellas. I tried and to imagine myself as the “dainty miss” portrayed in one of the prints and failed.

When it was time, we boarded the ornate elevator in groups of three or four, pulling both the gate and the regular door closed, and rode up to the penthouse. Michael Burke greeted us and invited us to look around.

The 10 p.m. performance I attended did not include dinner, but we could see the elegant table-scapes left over from the earlier performance that did. Someone had already washed the large, black dinner plates. They were face down, drying on a towel on the island in the kitchen.

I found a stacking washer-dryer in a closet I was probably not supposed to have opened but other than that, it didn’t feel as if anyone actually lived there. Another NoExit member, Bill Wilkison, told me that no one lives in the penthouse right now. People rent it by the night for parties and corporate retreats. Although there are no personal items, it is comfortably furnished. The views of Indianapolis from the tall living room windows or from either of the spacious terraces are stunning. I imagine the views inspire teams trying to articulate a vision statement or form a strategic plan.

Romantic, jazzy music was playing on the stereo system. “At last..” someone sang and I thought happily, “Well, I could live here. I could move in right now.”

Burke called us all back to seats in the cream-and-gold living room and told us that the action of the show would take place in several rooms, “so don’t get too comfortable. If you don’t move fast enough and you miss something, it will be your own fault.”

As Burke was talking, a door opened and a bruised man in suspenders stumbled out, holding a glass of beer. A woman came out, too, a moment later, and went between people to look out a window. She wore a long, silvery, fringed vest that made her black shorts and top look like a dress. Neither the man nor the woman acknowledged the other people in the room. It was as if we were ghosts.

They started talking and it was clear they were working class, from the Bronx (those thick accents!), and that they were just now meeting for the first time in a bar. But they were also in this upper class apartment with us, with the lights of Indianapolis spread out wide behind them. Maybe they were the ghosts, not us. They were not of this place but they were living out a story that could be anyone’s story, anywhere.

Both were drinking. Both were lonely. Both were battling demons.

The man, Danny, was afraid he had killed someone by beating him up in anger. His co-workers called him “Beast.” The dried blood on his knuckles looked real.
ZACH ROSING
  • Zach Rosing

The woman, Roberta, assured him he probably hadn’t, and that if he wanted to hear something worse ... she had given her father a blow job on a whim to see if she could make him stop yelling. And it had worked. And then her father had wanted her to do it again and she discovered that refusing was another kind of power. She had never told anyone any of this before.

Danny and Roberta kept drinking and cursing and talking and moving among us as if we weren’t there. As if, in fact, there was no one else in the universe except the two of them. When she called him a "fag," taunting him, he slammed her up against the inside of one of the arched doorways. It looked as if he were truly choking her.

When he finally let her go and they fell into the next room, a slightly darker media room, aka an alley outside the bar, we all sat in shock for a moment but followed eagerly when NoExit’s Tommy Lewey led the way across the room after them.

In the next room, a man that had sat down in one of the few chairs got up and offered it to me. “Oh, that’s okay,” I whispered. “You go ahead.”

So we missed some dialogue but then Roberta was touching Danny in the same way she had touched her father. She undressed him down to his underwear. The audience member standing mere inches behind them looked around with a grin and caught my eye. “Yup,” I telegraphed back with my eyebrows. “I think she’s going to blow him right there in front of you.”

But then Roberta sort of swooped under Danny instead and led him into the dimly lit master bedroom, aka her room attached to her parents’ house.

We all trooped in after them and arranged ourselves around the big bed. I grabbed the one chair unapologetically. Everyone else stood. Light spilled in from the bathroom and there was one bedside lamp that got turned on and off.

A different whisper of recorded music accented each scene.

The sex and struggles in the bedroom were beautifully choreographed, too, but no less powerful for being stylized.

Roberta forced Danny to acknowledge that not only had he hurt others but someone had hurt him too. “Who hurt you?” she shouted, sitting on him and holding him down so that he had to look at her. There was healing in her looking at him, at all of him, both his brutality and his vulnerability.

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