Dana H. adapted from interviews with Dana Higginbotham by Lucas Hnath
At Vineyard Theatre on East 15th Street
BS Rating: A-
Show-Score Rating: 90
This was one of the most unusual theatre experiences I have had in some time. The mother of playwright Lucas Hnath (“The Doll’s House, Pt. 2”) was kidnapped and held by a mentally ill Aryan Brotherhood ex-convict in 1997. In 2015, Hnath asked a friend, artistic director of The Civilians theatre company, Steve Cosson, to interview his mother and record her as she described her five months under the control of her captor. This one-person play has actress Deirdre O’Connell lip-syncing the recording of the playwright’s mother telling her story. Ms. O’Connell’s performance is truly amazing.
For me, it presented a new dimension to acting. Usually an actor’s voice is an essential part of making an audience believe what it is seeing. As a college director with inexperienced actors, I asked my performers to match their physicality to their voice — feel and show what you are saying. For Ms. O’Connell, she not only had to match the physical mouth gestures to the recorded voice of the mother of the playwright (which she does flawlessly), she had to create this other person’s physicality and, as good actors must, communicate an understandable interpretation of the character’s words and thoughts. The way Dana H said her lines had to drive how Ms. O’Connell acted those lines.
“Dana H” really is not a play. It’s a reenactment of the retelling of a story that is fascinating — a Christian chaplain attempts to save a suicidal criminal and becomes his prisoner. He drags her all over the southern states and seems to have an immunity to law-enforcement intervention. The story might be unbelievable were it not for the fact that we are hearing the voice of the actual victim. And Ms. O’Connell’s portrayal is absolutely believable and insightful.