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Discover the history of 'Danny and the Deep Blue Sea' off Broadway

This simple yet layered play about two strangers who find an unexpected connection has only appeared in New York three times, but they've all made a splash.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is a lesser-known drama by John Patrick Shanley, but its upcoming revival is highly anticipated. The play, set at a bar in the Bronx where two troubled strangers meet, stars Christopher Abbott and Aubrey Plaza of film and television fame as Danny and Roberta.

Only the second play the Oscar-winning Moonstruck screenwriter ever penned, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea has a fairly short New York production history, but each staging made a splash. Cast members from the various productions have gone to co-star elsewhere, and Danny led Shanley to a flourishing New York theatre career with numerous productions — sometimes in the same season.

Look back at past productions of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea to learn about each cast and get ready for the latest revival at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

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1983 premiere productions

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville before playing the Circle in the Square Theatre, then a downtown Off-Broadway venue. Director Barnet Kellman is credited with introducing Shanley to the New York theatre scene, as Danny was one of the playwright’s earliest professional productions here.

Like many other of his plays, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea is set in Shanley’s native borough of the Bronx. Other Bronx-set Shanley titles include Savage in Limbo, Storefront Church, and the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning Doubt: A Parable, set at a Catholic school Shanley modeled on the New York Catholic schools he attended.

In his New York Times review, critic Mel Gussow called Danny and the Deep Blue Sea a “Bronx variation on Beauty and the Beast” – but with both characters as beasts. Gussow's review was mixed overall, but he praised stars June Stein and John Turturro, the latter of whom went on to star in Shanley’s Italian American Reconciliation at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1986.

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2004 Off-Broadway revival

The 2004 Danny and the Deep Blue Sea revival at Second Stage Theater was directed by Leigh Silverman (represented this season with Merry Me at New York Theatre Workshop) 10 years before she became a Tony nominee. Danny wasn't the first Shanley play to grace the theatre company: In 2001, Shanley directed his play Cellini there.

Adam Rothenberg and Rosemarie DeWitt starred as Danny and Roberta, and DeWitt went on to star in the 2017 thriller film Sweet Virginia alongside Abbott, 2023’s Danny.

Reviewing the play in the New York Times, critic Ben Brantley noted that November 2004 was “turning out to be John Patrick Shanley month in New York”: Sailor’s Song premiered at The Public Theater, while Doubt premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club. The 2023-24 season is shaping up similarly: A Broadway revival of Doubt and the Off-Broadway premiere of a new Shanley play, Brooklyn Laundry, follow Danny this season.

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2023 Off-Broadway revival

The newest revival of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea off Broadway marks Shanley's first New York production since his play Candlelight premiered at the recently-closed New Ohio Theatre in 2021. Jeff Ward, best known for his work as a television actor, makes his directorial debut with Danny.

Plaza, best known for playing April on the sitcom Parks and Recreation, makes her own professional theatre debut, taking the stage for the first time since her days with the Wilmington Drama League growing up in Delaware. Abbott is no stranger to the stage — he’s appeared in productions on and off Broadway — and now reunites with Plaza after co-starring in her film Black Bear.

Actor Sam Rockwell produces the 2023 run after teaming up with Abbott in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2014. (In his review, Brantley called Abbott’s performance “perfect in his incomprehension.”)

Rockwell has also worked with Shanley before: In 2003, they both appeared in an early reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. (Guirgis once directed Shanley’s Italian American Reconciliation – it all comes full circle!) Shanley read for the role of the Devil, while Rockwell read for the title character and went on to play him in the Public’s production.

Top image credit: John Turturro (1983), Rosemarie DeWitt (2004), and Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott (2023) in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea. (Photos by Martha Swope and Joan Marcus; 2023 image courtesy of production)

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