To say that Unexpected Stage’s production of Danny Boy comes up short would be a cruel pun, if an apt one.
Not to be confused with Dani Girl which Unexpected Stage produced this past summer, Marc Goldsmith’s Danny Boy centers on the experience of a man with dwarfism. While Danny has friends, his social circle is small, his self-esteem low, and his work isn’t enough to make up for the other voids in his life. His small stature prevents him from approaching women or asserting himself in any situation, and he’s finally had enough.
His decision to confront his loneliness head-on sets in motion a sequence of social missteps and over-the-top events. He wants to get a girlfriend, he wants to meet other little people. Scott Strasbaugh, as Danny, is likeably conflicted, and shows a talent for the physical comedy the role demands. Yet for a show that wants to tackle issues of inclusion and seeing past appearances, this play sacrifices depth for rapid-fire plot points and easy laughs. Which is a problem with the script rather than the production.
Where Danny Boy tries to challenge stereotype and confront prejudice, it contradicts itself by offering up a veritable ensemble of caricatures. There’s Danny’s mom (Lois Sanders-DeVincent), the prototypical Jewish mother with a shrill accent and no boundaries (see the four sets of keys she uses to access her son’s apartment). There’s Gabe (Justus Hammond), the video-game-playing, couch-cruising bum who, even in his thirties, can’t seem to get it together. And there’s Dori (Briana Manente), the career-centered lawyer who would never look at Danny with a romantic eye because of his appearance.
Allison (Dawn Thomas Reidy), Danny’s colleague-turned-girlfriend, is the most fully-rendered of the characters, but—as is the case with Danny himself—still lacks complexity. She enjoys costumes during sex and she’s had a bad history of men dating her only for her looks.
Yes, some of the language is witty, and the banter sustains the energy of the show. But the blocking feels at times forced, the romantic pairings happen too quickly for chemistry or anticipation to develop, and both the script and the production design had several plausibility issues that were challenging to overlook.
As the living room of Danny’s New York apartment, the set suffers several crises of identity. Most notable among them, the space does not seem suitable, comfortable, or intelligent for someone of Danny’s stature. This observation comes after watching him launch himself at the couch to sit, or hold on to the chair so he doesn’t slide off of it for the duration of the play–making it hard to believe that this is the furniture he’s selected for his own living space.
Closes October 26, 2014
Unexpected Stage at
Randolph Road Theatre
4010 Randolph Road
Silver Spring, MD
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $17 – $23
Thursdays thru Sundays
While yes, this does serve to highlight what it means to be differently abled and living in a world made for bodies of average height, in Danny’s own home, it’s difficult to fathom why he wouldn’t have selected furniture that he could navigate more deftly. (The only nod to Danny’s restricted growth is a coat rack that stands at about his height.) Less significant but still somewhat confusing is the Midwestern styling of the space, which made it something of a surprise, a quarter of the way in, to discover that they were a short train ride from Manhattan. It is well-crafted, but seems as though it belongs in another play.
The costume choices are similarly problematic. Like the set, the costumes have been carefully put together—though sometimes for a different show, or at least different characters. Dori’s wardrobe in particular feels awkward and unresolved. As Park Slope hipster, her colorful berets and black skinny jeans would fit right in. But a successful urban lawyer—one would expect less youthful frivolity, more mature attire, especially when the character’s personality reads as the slick, workaholic professional.
Where this play does succeed is in beginning the conversation about what it is to feel like an object rather than subject in one’s own life. In Allison, we see someone who is fetishized for her beauty, and tries to work against that—providing an interesting if incongruous foil to Danny. In Danny’s plight, we see how at times we are the proprietors of our own alienation. And while Danny Boy doesn’t bring its audiences to a place of fully grappling with the issues it addresses, the show does at least prompt a conversation.
Danny Boy by Marc Goldsmith . Directed by Christopher Goodrich . Featuring Scott Strasbaugh, Justus Hammond, Briana Manente, Lois Sanders-DeVincent, Dawn Thomas, and Zach Brewster-Geisz . Set design: Kristen Jepperson, . Lighting design: Peter “Zeke” Dowty . Props master: John Barbee . Stage manager: Sarah Richards . Produced by Unexpected Stage . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.
Closes Oct 26
Roger Catlin . MDTheatreGuide playwright Goldsmith isn’t quite sure what direction to take Danny Boy — a serious statement on little people in society or a gag-filled farce.
Leslie Weisman . DCMetroTheaterArts It’s not often that theatergoers have the rug of common assumptions pulled out from under them and enjoy both the trip and the landing.
Itai Yasur . BroadwayWorld a lively, hectic, and on-the-level comedy.