During finals last year, an independent project called iDanny and the Deep Blue Sea/i enjoyed a short run in Emerson's Cabaret.
On April 9-11, the cast and most of the crew are back to take another shot at it-this time, though, they've taken the show down the road to the Boston Center for the Arts, where they'll break a leg for public audiences.
In an interview with iThe Beacon/i, director Steven Yakutis, an Emerson alumnus and part-time faculty member, said that Boston is a city that fosters new work and new actors, though the roles aren't consistently there. iDanny/i provided both a chance to expose the actors to a venue outside of the college while also bringing the material to a wider audience.
"There was some incredible work being done. As I thought more about it, I thought, 'This really belongs beyond the Emerson community,'" he said. "People here of course would enjoy it, but it's reaching out into a larger world."
The volatile play focuses on the spontaneous relationship between two down-and-out loners, Danny (Nick Ronan) and Roberta (Kristen Berke), who meet one night in a deserted Bronx bar. Each of them, weighed down with separate anxieties, is desperately searching for someone to connect with, though neither of them wants to admit it.
Relating isn't easy, though, with characters that are so unstable. Danny's method of coping with disappointment, panic attacks and social isolation is through violence. Roberta is more self-punishing, her relationships stunted by her guilt.
She is saddled with the emotional scars of an incestuous relationship with her father, a failed marriage and her inability to raise her child well. Both of them want to escape their minds and lives-they want a clean slate, and they see an opportunity in each other. Roberta takes Danny home for a night of fantasy where they can pretend they are in love - and, to some extent, they buy into it. However, with the arrival of the morning and the challenges of real life, doubt throws their futures into jeopardy.
Because the characters are so extreme, both actors said in an interview with iThe Beacon/i that they faced difficulties bringing their personalities out-even the second time around.
"The violence has always been a challenge for me-Danny is a really violent kind-of animalistic character, so to find that in myself and to explore how that manifests has always been really challenging," Ronan said. "It's very much on the surface with him, but it's also very internalized. It's a struggle."
For Berke, the challenges came from initially thinking that she and Roberta shared no common ground.
"When I first read the part, I was like, this is going to be tough, I have nothing in common with this girl," she said. "I read the script and I was like oh my god, OK, go in without really knowing what I was doing-I didn't know what I was getting myself into."
However, she said that Danny is a play that forces actors to realize a lot about themselves as they work to bring the characters to life.
"We've talked about it before as being sort-of an actor's dream type of play," she added, "because it touches on those real-life emotions. I mean, I feel like unless you're 100 percent guarded, the scary thing is, you can find some of yourself in these crazy, scary people who say these outrageous things."
Just as the characters aren't easy to decipher, neither is the play itself. One of the play's main themes is the inability of people to communicate, so a lot of the play's meaning isn't in what is said, but what is left unsaid in the long pauses between them.
For Yakutis, the story's refusal to wrap everything up neatly is one of its strengths.
"I really like the ambiguous area," he said. "That challenges the audience. I want to be entertained with a piece of theater, but part of that for me is like, I don't want an easy answer either-that's boring. I'd watch television, you know? That's the whole purpose of it being live-you don't know."
The actors agreed, stressing that the uncertainty enhances the play's themes of the difficulty of communicating openly with someone else and finding happiness amongst hardship and setbacks.
"I would want people to be left with questioning what's going to happen," Ronan said. "If everyone had a different answer at the end of the show, that would be awesome."
"I think, like he said, the ending is very ambiguous, and that's intentional," added Berke. "But the point is that bad things happen a lot to these people, and I think what this night proves is that they're fighting so hard to find the good in life, because neither of them have really seen or experienced it for themselves. And I would like to think what some people take away from it is that the good-even if you never achieve it, and you're not sure these two do-is worth fighting for."
They said they hope that their production-both the play itself and their decision to take the leap to a public forum-will encourage future Emersonians to do the same.
"I hope we inspire other Emerson students to want to do this production a few years down the line," Berke says, "because I think that it's really important to share with people."