Jennifer McEwen plumbs new depths with “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Jennifer McEwen (photo: LV Imagery)

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea elicits more “huh?” than “hah!” in 2019. One of John Patrick Shanley’s early plays, the 1984 two-actor play preceded his Tony-Award and Pulitzer-Award winning play (and subsequent Academy Award-nominated film) Doubt: A Parable (2004). It also precedes the 1987 Academy-Award winning blockbuster Moonstruck.

LOVE2 Theatre Company might just change that.

As its inaugural production, the new indie theatre company founded by Jennifer McEwen is readying to mount a site-specific production of Danny at the Monarch Tavern. David Lafontaine directs, and Justin Otto appears in the title role. McEwen herself portrays Roberta. For McEwen, discovering Danny changed the trajectory of her life. The play fell into her lap during a scene-study class last June with Otto as her assigned scene partner. By fluke or serendipity, she recognized in it an opportunity of greater yields. “Justin and I had just met in that scene-study class and did this particular scene together,” McEwen recalls. The scene went well, and afterward, Justin told her that he had always wanted to do the play, which she had not read prior to the class. She went away, read it through, and connected with the script. She then re-connected with Otto, and literally created her own theatre company in order to mount it.

“The amazing thing about this play is that it still remains relevant. These characters, Danny and Roberta, are so damaged and yet so real and strangely relatable,” McEwen observes. “The world that Shanley creates really lives as soon as you read the dialogue out loud. When the construction of a play and the dialogue of the characters are this good, all you want to do is do it justice. I hope we can live up to the writing.” McEwen also hopes that the site-specificity of the production will help Toronto audiences to feel immersed in Danny and Roberta’s world. The Monarch Tavern lends itself perfectly to Shanley’s gritty yet intimate love story, which is set in the rundown bar in the Bronx where Danny and Roberta chance to meet.

Creating LOVE2 Theatre reflects McEwen’s deep commitment to the play – and to the broader cause of job creation for fellow actors. “I think most actors would agree that waiting around for work can be a frustrating and demoralizing exercise, at times,” she asserts. In part for this reason, she left the entertainment industry for seven years, believing she was “done and would never come back”. During that period, she focused – fruitfully – on being a stay-at-home mom. She now has two children: an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old. “But life has a funny way of igniting old dreams when you open yourself to possibilities. Long story short, through a series of events, I found myself acting again.”

Justin Otto as Danny

McEwen “fell back in love with acting” . . . but decided she also wanted some creative control over her work. It wasn’t good enough to rely solely on others for opportunities. “So LOVE2 was born out of the idea that if I want to create something, I can. Simple as that.” She does not consider LOVE2 to be a uniquely different company, and she is grateful that the “many great indie companies just creating opportunities for themselves” have inspired her. McEwen’s aspiration is modest and clear-headed: “I hope I can continue to do productions that inspire me to work and to create work for the great, largely undiscovered/ underemployed actors and artists in my life. I have a really wonderful group of people working on Danny, and that makes all the difference.”

Going forward, McEwen remains “open and excited” to whatever may come next, but in the here and now, she is embracing fully the exhilarating experience of mounting the show with her team: “Everyone at the Monarch Tavern has been extremely accommodating and a real pleasure. Justin has been such a great producing partner. We’ve gathered people and made decisions about the production as a whole since the moment we decided to mount the show.” David Lafontaine was their first choice to direct, and has been “absolutely the right person”. She is also unequivocal in her praise of producer Marvin Araneta, stage manager Gloria Mok, and front of house manager Kaitlin Race, all of whom make this play “such a joy to produce”.

“I can only hope the audience will enjoy watching it as much as we have enjoyed working on it,” McEwen smiles. Her contagious enthusiasm may be just the ticket to make this Shanley play familiar to local audiences and help McEwen’s LOVE2 Theatre Company carve out its spot in the local theatre scene.

News You Can Use

What: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley; Presented by LOVE2 Theatre Company; Directed by David Lafontaine
Performed by Justin Otto (Danny) and Jennifer McEwen (Roberta)

Who: Audiences 19 years of age and older

When: May 30, 31, June 1, 6, 7 & 8, 2019, 7:00 PM; running time: 70 minutes (no intermission)

Where: Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton Street, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: love2theatrecompany.bpt.me

© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / Sesayarts Magazine, 2019

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