Film star Carl Weathers helms a stirring revival of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”

By Andrew Dubbins

Carl Weathers directs Tanna Frederick and Robert Standley at Edgemar Center for the Arts
Photo by Ed Krieger

Though Woody Allen and his crew of New York sophisticates love to mock L.A. as a celluloid-obsessed cultural wasteland, they might need a moment to process what’s happening on stage at the Edgemar Center for the Arts: Rocky Balboa’s original onscreen nemesis is directing a tumultuous romance.

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Patrick Shanley, debuted off-Broadway in 1984. This staging is well-acted, sophisticated and intense. So shove it, Woody.

Venice resident Carl Weathers, best known as Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” franchise and Col. Dillon in “Predator,” brings discipline and emotional depth to the revival.

“The material resonated with me,” the broad-shouldered former NFL player told me. “It deals with universal themes like coping with depression, the need for love, and the need for acceptance.”

I saw the play on a sweltering summer evening. Weathers introduced the performance and mingled with audience members afterward.

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” tells the story of deeply troubled social outcasts Danny and Roberta, who strike up a conversation at a rundown bar in the Bronx and bond over shared misery and self-loathing.

Danny is an insecure brawler fresh off yet another street fight, bleeding from cuts on his hands and face; Roberta is a guilt-ridden absentee mother, traumatized by the memory of sexual abuse at the hands of her father.

The subject matter may be dark, difficult and definitely not suitable for children (“I need a beer,” muttered one man after the show), but the performances by Tanna Frederick (Roberta) and Robert Standley (Danny) were mesmerizing.

Weathers, a 69-year-old with a commanding presence and deep baritone, studied theater at San Francisco State University. He’s previously helmed television episodes, but this is his first time directing a play. I asked if he was nervous.

“Why would I be nervous?” he replied, a shade like Apollo Creed.

Intimidated, I quickly changed the subject.

Weathers told me he was drawn to the swirling movement of the play, described by Shanley in his stage direction as an “apache dance” — a highly physical form of dramatic choreography drawn from the violence of the early 20th-century Parisian underworld. Shanley also employed the technique in his 1988 film “Moonstruck,” which earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

It was Frederick’s idea to revive “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” and she also stepped in to produce.

“I read it when I was 15,” she said, “and it’s been on my bucket list ever since.”

After casting Weathers in a narrative VR series, Frederick — a former Taekwondo fighter — realized he’d be perfect to direct her passion project.

“It took somebody who has a tough exterior but also a huge heart,” she said. “Carl has that duality.”

Standley, dripping with sweat after the highly physical performance, praised Weathers for his commitment, passion, and dedication to the show. He said that Weathers has attended every performance, which is rare for a director, and continues to hold twice-a-week rehearsals.

“The show improves and grows with each week,” said Standley. “I’m a better actor because of Carl.”

Weathers told me that his old friend and co-star Sylvester Stallone stopped by for an early performance.

“Just saw the play ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,’” Stallone posted on Facebook. “Powerfully directed by the one and only Carl Weathers!”

So while the L.A. theater scene may not be as big or as concentrated or as celebrated as Broadway, we’ve got the fire and the confidence and the hustle. Just ask Rocky Balboa.

 

“Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” is now playing at 8 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 10 at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $20 to $25. Call (310) 392-7327 or visit edgemarcenter.org.

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