I ask myself, “What is this all for? What is it all about, and why is this happening? Why is this so intense, what is driving me? Is it the character coming through me subliminally, or is it me, or both?”
I had such an incredible attachment to Danny, and it psychologically manifested as a great need to express all that had built up inside of me for years. Frustration. Anger. Love. I was gaining enlightenment within my acting craft at light speed working on this character. What is unique about Shanley’s play as an actor is that there is no place to hide – not even in the character. And when you add a live audience, the actor has a living mirror before them.
By the end of the play, we would receive without fail an outpouring of emotion from the audience. Some people would be crying as if something died inside and they were letting it go. Others appeared stunned, utterly silenced by the 2-act drama.
This personal healing – and the ability to heal others through art – this was what was driving me. I was trying to heal myself, and in the course of doing so, others would heal by observing. Pure catharsis. Years ago in acting class, while studying with Michael, he told me, “Daniel, to be a great artist you have to be willing to walk down the street naked and expose your deepest vulnerabilities.”
It’s now late Monday afternoon, and still no word from Shanley. With 3 hours of sleep over 2 days and doing everything possible to move this artistic ship forward, I am totally spent and crash to sleep. Fifteen hours later, it’s Tuesday morning and I wake from a dream that Shanley grants us the rights. I’m momentarily uplifted, but then remember that there is no more money to produce the show or pay for the theater rental. With one week left, how would this play out?
I lie in my bed still physically exhausted from the play. My body aches. Staring at the ceiling, the morning sun pours through. I pick up my cell phone and check for messages – there are none. I turn on the ringer from silent mode. I lie back down.
My cell phone rings, I don’t know the number but recognize the area code 917 for New York. My mind quickly wonders, “I did leave Shanley my phone number in my email, could this be him calling me?” It rings a second time, I answer. “Hello.” A woman’s voice asks, “Hi, am I speaking with Mr. DeWeldon?” I reply, “Yes this is he.” She then said, “I am calling from CAA, I’m the assistant to George Lane, John Patrick Shanley’s agent. Can you hold please?” I said, “Yes of course.” I overheard the assistant say, “Mr. Lane, I have Mr. DeWeldon on the line, I’ll put him through.” I think to myself, “Wow, this is happening, nothing to prepare other than feeling well rested and being in the moment.”
George Lane connects to the call and sounds like a high-powered attorney. He starts with, “Mr. DeWeldon, I don’t know how the hell you did it, but Shanley’s giving you the full professional rights to Danny and The Deep Blue Sea. He hasn’t released rights in LA for over 12 years. Congratulations.” Overwhelmed, I simply say, “Thank you, sir.” Mr. Lane finishes with, “You will deal directly with the DPS right’s holder to process the paperwork. Have a good day.”
Now I am the one experiencing an outpouring of emotions. I can’t contain myself and fall to my knees crying. This was one of my most extraordinary moments I have ever experienced in my life and career as an actor.
I went to my laptop to read Shanley’s last email and replied to thank him for entrusting me with his precious play, and a promise that I would not disappoint him. His reply simply said, “You’re welcome. Don’t fuck it up. 🙂 Best, Shanley.”
The first people I call are Martin Landau and our director, Michael. I leave a message for Landau sharing the news and thanking him and Rydell for their tremendous letter of recommendation to Shanley. When I reach Michael to share the news, he is ecstatic but also cautiously aware of our obstacles extending the show.
In a moment of optimism, Michael had already reached out to a reputable theater producer in LA named David Fofie, owner of the Elephant Theater. Michael scheduled David to see the next performance with the hope that, if he liked the play, he would co-produce and move the show to the larger Elephant Theater. I acknowledged to myself how the pressure simply would not relent… but it will surely make for a great story one day!
We also strategized around press coverage. With zero press to date, no money to spend, nor a publicist to help promote the production (a cost of $20k), Michael suggested that he would send personal invitations to all the top press agents that had reviewed him years past in the hopes that they would review the play.
As planned, David Fofie attended the last weekend of the show. His reaction? Blown away. To demonstrate his belief in our production, David agreed to co-produce and move the play to the Elephant Theater. Moreover, he graciously offered his theater at no cost with a 50/50 split of the ticket sales. For context, this was unheard of – especially in LA where theater is challenging (to put it mildly). I was beyond grateful.
After closing at our original theatre, it took two weeks to move the play into our new space. This allowed time for Michael to secure press for the reopening of the show. Backstage West was the first to confirm and would be sending their top critic Dave DePino. “Here it comes,” I thought, “the real moment of truth: our first public review.”
The review from Backstage West did not get published until the following Wednesday, and it was nothing less than torture waiting. In the meantime, Michael confirmed additional press for our second weekend. Everything was moving right along.
Then Wednesday arrived. Our first public review hot off the presses – finally. DePino’s review in Backstage West not only praised the production but also gave us critic’s choice:
“Daniel DeWeldon’s performance is wonderfully layered, peeling Danny’s years of hurt away quite painfully. Deborah Dir’s Roberta is filled not only with loneliness but also with unfathomable guilt, which she shares for the first time, with Danny. She gives Roberta many different dimensions as a woman desperately reaching out and seeking forgiveness. Michael Arabian’s direction keeps everything in perfect balance-the drama from spilling into melodrama-targeting the humor to help us like this couple and laugh with them, not at them.”
With this, we launched into a wonderful next chapter of our journey that lasted for an
8-month run. Awarded 15 critic’s choice nods and featured articles in the LA Times, all my dreams came true. I learned more than ever imagined from the process, and this phenomenal experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was a true life lesson that anything is possible if you really want it.
My need, my “really wanting it” became my greatest inspiration. In retrospect, everything felt effortless from this drive. While there certainly were doubts, they drove me as much as my need did. To this day, I wonder, “Was I doing the play, or was the play doing me?” I believe this to be a metaphor for life: “Life is the dancer and you are the dance.” (Eckhart Tolle)
When I reflect on all the creative projects I’ve been part of, I recognize the same driving force. Yes, I went after these projects – but I feel they were looking for me, too. A collective consciousness unfolding to reveal spiritual and karmic lessons.
This was further confirmed when I consider how Danny affected my co-star Deborah. She transformed before my eyes and was further empowered as an actress and a person. Over eight months, we became creative soul mates dancing on the edge of creation with Michael orchestrating the symphony.