Following their praiseworthy Fool for Love, the Hunger Artists return to similar territory with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, yet another pas de deux of hopelessly damaged characters groping through the squalid darkness of low-lit bedrooms and unconquerable demons. In this decidedly unromantic tale by John Patrick Shanley (author of Moonstruck), we're given Danny and Roberta, two self-created outcasts in desperate need of love and human connection. After hooking up in a strangely deserted dive bar, they head off to her place for a night of emotional escape. What follows is a slow unveiling as, for the first time in their twisted lives, Danny and Roberta let down their defenses and begin to see what tenderness can bring to an otherwise oppressive existence. Though Roberta initiates the process as role playing, Danny is quickly seduced by the dream of an idyllic future together—despite her reckless past and his violent outbursts. It would be easy to dismiss both characters as pathetic victims of an inevitable fate—even the romantic "moon" outside their bedroom window is nothing more than an electric chimera that switches itself off before daybreak. But let's be honest: Who hasn't lied to sustain the illusion of love in a doomed relationship?
While Shanley's play is often bleak, it's also eerily familiar, making the proceedings seem even more immediate. Unfortunately, the demands of the complex characters prove too much for the leads. Mark Palkoner and Andrea Troilo never seriously convince us they are capable of wanton violence or extreme sexual perversity. If only they could get past the heavy emoting of their characters and simply believe—I mean truly believe, like Danny blindly dreaming of an impossible white wedding. Maybe then the rest of us could get on with our own flighty notions that all love is sacred and that all struggling actors secretly lead a charmed life.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Hunger Artists Theater, 204. E. 4th St., Ste. I, Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m. No performance Aug. 12. Through Aug. 26. $10-$12.