"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea""I'm calling you crazy, crazy," a woman says to the ramshackle excuse of a man who has caught her eye at the bar. "What you don't know is, I'm crazy too."
She's also drowning in a stew of guilt and loneliness, which is why she's zoned in on this loser. There's an ugly secret in the old gal's not-so-distant past. It's eating her up inside. She's desperate to spill it to someone. Preferably, someone who doesn't matter. Someone she'll never see again. She's looking for a confessor to punish her until all the hurt goes away, and this hothead with the bloody knuckles and brooding temper whom she brings home for the night looks like an ideal candidate.
What she doesn't count on is forging a real connection with the guy, one that is reciprocated with so much grasping, furious, combustible emotion, you almost think these two kids just might make it. They won't.
But the fantasy — of two broken people trying to put each other back together again — is not without its charms.
John Patrick Shanley's 1984 bar-and-bed drama is too schematic to ever be believable. If Billy Joel wrote a song about "A Streetcar Named Desire," it would sound a lot like this play, which is ripe with cliches about busted dreams. It's not Shanley's strongest work, not by a long shot, but you can see why actors are drawn to it.
I once saw this play performed in a director's apartment, a real-world setting that headed off many of the script's hammier tendencies. This is a far more straightforward production, just the solid work of actors Brandon Galatz and Jodi Kingsley, gazing deeply into their souls and giving the kind of raw performances we've long come to associate with Chicago theater.
Shanley (who won a Pulitzer in 2005 for "Doubt") can wring more out of intense, two-person interrogations than most playwrights working today. Director K. Hannah Friedman's production for Kokandy Productions starts out with an almost absurdly oversized and gaudy energy, but it gradually tightens its focus as these two would-be lovers drop their defenses and lay everything on the line, one heaping mess of a human being reaching out to another.
Through April 28 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2636 N. Southport Ave.; tickets are $28 at 773-935-6875 or kokandyproductions.com
"Tamer of Horses"They used to make after-school specials like this: tough subjects, milquetoast narratives. Here, a disaffected teenager finds refuge with a well-meaning young couple, but William Mastrosimone's script is only interested in surface moments. Almost nothing here registers as credibly human; each character is deployed as little more than a mouthpiece for frustration. The whole thing starts to feel like a dodge, thwarting even the best efforts of director Carl Lindberg and his three-person cast.
There is one creepy scene that does stand out. The kid (Chris Vizurraga) explains in vivid detail how he and his pals "wolf pack" men on the subway, robbing them blind and dispatching a few violent blows in the process. If only the rest of the play were as focused on character-building and storytelling. The backbone of any theater company is good play selection. Fail on that front, and nothing else matters. The fledgling Stone Soup Theatre Project would be wise to consider that carefully.
Through May 4 at Senn High School, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave.; tickets are $5 at stonesouptheatreproject.org