Review: ‘The Lover’ / ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea’ at the Sargent Theater (NYC)

With so much indie theater in New York City it’s impossible for me to make it to every production I’m invited to review.  So before I even get into my review of The Seeing Place’s double-bill of Harold Pinter‘s The Lover and John Patrick Shanley‘s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, I feel obligated to point out that this is the third Seeing Place production that I’ve been invited to review this season and perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay them is that I make sure I have been there every time.  What The Seeing Place puts on stage is constantly worth seeing.  While these two productions are much smaller in scope than their previous productions I’ve reviewed, both prove that The Seeing Place is one of the theater companies worth noticing if you haven’t already.

The first Seeing Place production I reviewed, Closer, won me over simply for making me really enjoy a play I don’t particularly like.  Three Sisters, their second production I reviewed, took Chekhov‘s lengthy, dense play and made it more accessible with a large, affable, and often hilarious cast.  But their current double-bill production, The Lover and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, presents two far more intimate plays, with three and two actors in the cast, respectively. 

Both plays are about relationships, and the two leads in both are Brandon Walker and Erin Cronican.  In The Lover, which is presented first, Walker takes the spotlight as Richard, the slightly-off husband of Cronican’s Sarah.  The two maintain a level of awkward conversation as they casually discuss their extramarital affairs.  If you’re unfamiliar with the play it has a twist that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling, but the play reveals the lengths some couples are willing to go in order to maintain the spark in their relationship.  While Walker’s performance makes you question Richard’s sanity, Erin’s Sarah moves from coy to jealous and she highlights her performance with clever nuances — like how her body language changes and her cheerful humming when she’s waiting for her lover.  But this is a play tat has much more focus on the male lead, and Walker handles his character’s perplexing duality skillfully, even adopting an accent reminiscent of Jon Voight‘s in Midnight Cowboy in a surprising moment.

In between the plays the audience was serenaded with a few acoustic songs by sound designer/original music composer Sean Demers, who also chose the music played as lead-ins to the plays.  Leading into Danny and the Deep Blue Sea were songs by T. Rex, Sex Pistols, and the Dead Kennedys, which perfectly set up the play, which is about two angry, wounded strays in the Bronx that meet at a bar and strike up a revealing romance.  Danny is a less animated play than The Lover, but more intense in its language and delivery (and Walker and Cronican do an admirable job of switching their The Lover English accents for Bronx accents, along with a complete transformation of their demeanors).  Walker’s Danny is a street tough who only seems to know how to hurt, while Cronican’s Roberta flirts with him by taunting him, teetering close to the edge of his patience and tolerance for that kind of behavior.  Though Danny is the violent one, Cronican makes sure to show that Roberta is the aggressor in the play’s bar scene.  Since misery typically loves company, the pair make an unlikely likable couple as that gradually work through their respective issues with one another despite neither really realizing it. 

In speaking with Cronican, she pointed out to me that the plays pair because they are both about relationships that have barriers in which both couples need to find new levels of intimacy in order to make them work.  Like the characters in the plays themselves, the pairing of plays is unlikely, but works.  Because Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is about a half hour longer than The Lover it does overwhelm the evening, especially since Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is more potent with on-stage tension.  Yet the pairing thematically works, which is a testament to not only the actors but the direction of Ariel Francoeur and the rest of the production team.

While I did enjoy both productions, I missed the rest of the wonderful actors of The Seeing Place company (like Ned Baker Lynch, who makes a brief appearance in The Lover) whom I’ve grown to respect over seeing their performances during this season (which is the company’s third).  That’s not to say that Walker and Cronican’s performances lacked in any way — the two have significant on-stage chemistry.  I recommend going out to support The Seeing Place in order to help this talented company continue to explore larger, more challenging productions.  And though it’s an adequate venue for its current work, I’m looking forward to when The Seeing Place outgrows the Sargent Theater which, based on the quality of their productions, is inevitable.

The Lover and Danny and the Deep Blue See run at ATA’s Sargent Theater (314 W 54th Street, New York) until August 12. Performances run Wednesday through Sunday.  Check out http://www.seeingplacetheater.com for more information.

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