This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
When Danny meets Roberta late at night in a New York City bar, sparks begin to fly, lighting firstly flames of aggression and then, just possibly, of an unlikely romance. First staged in 1884, American playwright John Patrick Shanley’s 85-minute two-hander shows these strangers (Gareth O’Connor and Megan Lloyd-Jones) in three scenes – the bar, Roberta’s bedroom a little later and the same the following morning. 29-year-old Danny is a compulsive street fighter, resorting to violence as a release for his frustration at the pointlessness of his life in The Bronx, where he has become so cut off that he does not even realise the proximity of the ocean to his neighbourhood. Roberta is two years older, divorced with a teenage son and haunted by her past. She cannot move on until she is punished for what she believes to have been her sins and the harm that she has caused to her family. The early exchanges between these deeply damaged people, both in different ways alienated from society, are packed with fierce aggression, until each them realises that they are opening out to reveal more about themselves to the other than they have ever done to anyone else. In this opening scene, Shanley tears into themes of guilt, forgiveness and redemption with the fervour of a modern day Ibsen. However, even then, he signals that his play may change its course and become tinged with conventional romantic comedy. Sure enough, the tone of the second scene could not be more different. Sparring turns into flirting, the two scenes being bridged very effectively by a sequence of balletic movement (devised by Kete Lines) in which violence and passion alternate. The fact that the play’s credibility is able to survive its undulating moods represents a triumph for the actors, both of whom inhabit their roles magnificently. Courtney Larkin’s sharply focussed production is ideally suited to this studio space and lighting that picks out the actors while blurring most of what surrounds them adds to the claustrophobic feel. Shanley’s drama is engrossing throughout and it only disappoints when failing to deliver on everything that it promises. Looking back to the raw emotions of the bar scene from the perspective of what follows it, the play’s ultimate sweetness comes to seem very much like a cop out.
Performance date: 4 April 2016
Photo: Ben Bardsley-Ball