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Losers in Love 

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DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Zorna Productions

at Victory Gardens Studio Theatre

MACBETH

Piven Theatre

Moonstruck and Five Corners were no flukes. John Patrick Shanley consistently makes crazy people, especially Italians, matter to us a lot. Take his 1983 one-act Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, a 75-minute play with enough life in it for a five-act opera.

But you wouldn't want to see his kick-ass script set to music: at first there's little that's lyrical about this volatile and very weird couple who meet in a Bronx bar. Slurping down beer and snarling, Danny is a 29-year-old macho trucker and bruiser, his knuckles scraped raw from his latest fight--his second that day. Danny asks for the pretzels on the table of the bar's other drinker, 31-year-old Roberta, a lonely lady with a hollow, hungry look that spells trouble. Roberta sullenly lets him take them, then joins him at his table.

Slowly these hyper Italians spill their souls. Edgy and surly, apologizing as much as bragging, Danny replays his fights for her--and his fear that he just killed a guy. Suddenly blurting out "Everything hurts!" he panics, afraid he'll scare himself into a heart attack. Roberta helps him through the fit, even slapping him.

Roberta has her own secret fear relating to something she did recently, something Freudian with her father, a mean man she says she aches to stab repeatedly in the face. "I did a bad thing, and no one punished me." (The cry of the good Catholic.) Pleading with Danny to punish her, she taunts him into choking her. He does--this sort of thing comes naturally to him--but there's no fun in a willing victim. Besides, Danny now sort of cares for this very mixed-up divorcee with her 13-year-old son. After all, she's wackier than he is. For him that's news.

Danny lets Roberta take him to her apartment, where they make love under Roberta's artificial moon (triggered by a timer). Now flirtatious, Roberta says, "Let's be romantic with each other." Like clumsy Galapagos turtles feeling their way into mating, they launch into a sappy, hilarious inventory of all they like about each other. Roberta: "You've got friendly ears." Danny: "Your chin kind of smiles." They even share fantasies--hers of the serenity of ships at sea, his of being the bride at a picture-book wedding. (In these, they seem to switch identities.) Roberta and Danny take the wedding fantasy so seriously they start to plan their own church ceremony and a life together more settled and stable than anything they've known.

But the next morning, the night's work seems to unravel. Roberta's battered insecurities return with a vengeance--she doesn't think she could ever be loved enough to make up for her sin. Furious, Danny asks how she can throw away the life they mapped out in bed. "I forgive you," he says so hard she believes it. Danny finally finds his way to Roberta's deep blue sea. After they've taken on each other's dreams, reality should be a cinch.

John Mueller's staging for Zorna Productions is close to perfect at showing why these desperate wackos deserve each other--in the best sense. He plays it on the edge and to the hilt from start to finish. As Danny, William Robert Carey looks the brute so well he can afford to really dive into Danny's contradictory confessionals. Jane Natal matches him quirk for quirk. As a human being, Roberta may be a monumental mess, but she's a mess who cares so much it hurts. Natal plays Roberta's scary insecurities as if they were right under her skin.

Only after its immediacy wears off do you realize how much Danny owes to other works about disturbed people who stumble into unlikely love: Marty, David and Lisa, The Crackwalker, The Woolgatherer. But the sources don't matter; as it happens, Danny feels as fresh as all the first-time love talk going on right now all over the world.

The Piven Theatre has updated Macbeth to a grim, postnuclear future, a dog-eat-dog era like the one in the Mad Max films--or, more fittingly, like the tale's original medieval setting.

The three weird sisters are now electronic emanations, literal ghosts on a large screen (seen in superb video work by Miroslaw Rogala). Their cauldron is a computer, no doubt churning with ghastly new viruses. Backed up by a churning synthesizer, the climactic battle is fought with death rays and swords made of metal pipes by soldiers clad in whatever was suggested by junkyard inspiration. David Tennenbaum's setting suggests Shakespeare's Globe Theater in ruins; scaffolding and side stages allow the action to fairly swirl around this converted gymnasium.

But underneath the apocalyptic detritus lies the same swift tale, here told with perfunctory efficiency if not urgency by a hardworking cast of 16. Bellowing through a megaphone, acting up a storm on video, or live and in full stentorian voice, Byrne Piven (who also directs) makes a strong and smooth, if not spontaneous, Macbeth. Interestingly, in Piven's characterization, Macbeth's fear and guilt choke off his ambition fairly early; you don't catch this Scottish monster enjoying the fruits of his sins. Likewise Joyce Piven's haunting, low-voiced Lady Macbeth fairly thrives on envy, and thus sickens with success. Strangely, the gruesome twosome are at their best when they suggest the bedrock love that underlies their deeds.

Besides the video segments (which make the stage action look tame), we get creditable work from Tim Monsion as a Banquo who knows he knows too much for his own good, from Jeremy Piven as a Luke Skywalker of a Malcolm, and from Harry Lennix as Macduff, full of an ardent innocence that makes the wrongs done him all the harder to endure. Several other performances, however, are themselves inadvertent tragedies--they make you wish Rogala had lavished his video magic more generously. His two dimensions are more exciting than several of these actors' three.

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